Making your bed and recycling it

Posted on 05 March 2020.

Recycling polyurethane foam from end-of-life mattresses is the focus of the RENUVA Mattress project, which is part of Dow Chemical's circular economy program.

Bringing value chain stakeholders into a new ecosystem.

Dow Chemical is one of the largest plastics manufacturers in the world. And because being a major company comes with great responsibilities, the US group has launched several circular economy initiatives aimed at "closing the loop" and reducing the amount of plastic that ends up in landfills or worse still in the environment.
Winner of the Business Intelligence Group’s 2019 Sustainability Initiative of the Year, the RENUVA Mattress project is one of Dow’s initiatives. The goal is to recycle the polyurethane foam from end-of-life mattresses.

The project, called RENUVA Mattress, is part of a broader program of a Dow Chemical division, Dow Polyurethanes, which aims to transition linear economy polyurethane products to the circular economy by optimizing the use of resources and reducing waste.Launched more than a decade ago, this program specifically aims to produce bio-sourced polyols – just as effective as petroleum-based polyols, but with a lower environmental impact – to make polyurethane for a wide range of applications including mattresses.

Modern mattresses, especially those made of synthetic foam, are very difficult to recycle and can contain pollutants that are harmful to the environment. Unfortunately in some countries where despite its strong commercial potential the recycling sector for bedding products is underdeveloped, old mattresses are usually destined for landfill.

New ecosystem

One of the objectives of the RENUVA Mattress project is therefore to bring the value chain actors into a new ecosystem, offering the possibility of forming partnerships with polyurethane foam producers, recycling companies, equipment and materials manufacturers and other stakeholders.
A first step: Dow has partnered with the German polyurethane specialist H & S Anlagentechnik to develop a commercially viable recycling method. The process they have developed breaks down the mattress foam in order to use it in new "foam recipes".
The raw material obtained, RENUVA polyols, is suitable for different applications, and of course, with true circularity can serve as a basis for manufacturing new mattresses. It is able to replace up to 25% virgin of polyols in conventional flexible foam recipes.  


Mattress recovery in Rennes

The RENUVA Mattress project is similar to the circular economy loop developed in western France by Veolia and the Envie back-to-work social enterprise. Thanks to their complementarities and local roots, in September 2015 the two entities inaugurated a dismantling and recovery unit for used mattresses in Rennes. Using an efficient innovative process, the unit can recycle up to 90% of mattress components (metal, foam, latex, textile, etc.) for use in the automotive, furniture, construction and, potentially, mattress manufacturing industries. When it was created, the goal was to eventually recycle 7,000 metric tons of mattresses per year and create 14 jobs in three years, demonstrating that the circular economy and social economy go hand in hand.

CREDIT: Main picture © Getty Images