We can soon rest easy about what happens to old mattresses after we discard them. BASF is piloting an advanced recycling process that aims to prevent mattresses from ending up in landfills.
In modern times, “old-school” spring mattresses, which are difficult to recycle due to their intricate parts, are increasingly being swapped out for new-school polyurethane (PU) memory foam, which is made from components derived from petrochemicals like toluene or benzene, and polyols based on ethylene or propylene. The material used in PU memory mattresses can be compressed into a small size that fit in a box, which is why they’re commonly referred to as a “bed in a box.”
While the bed in a box business is booming, molecular recycling processes are blossoming. To avoid landfilling mattresses, BASF has launched a pilot project in Germany that breaks down the flexible polyurethane in mattresses and extract the polyol through a wet chemistry process, which can be reused to make brand new, just-as-good mattresses. The new mattress foam is created “with a significantly lower carbon footprint, because fewer fossil resources are used,” according to BASF.
“While mattresses are easy to collect and to sort out, at the end of their lifecycle they currently end up being either incinerated or in a landfill,” BASF technical project manager Arno Volkmann said.
The BASF project “is technically complex, but the potential to reduce waste volumes and save resources makes it all worth it,” added colleague Shankara Keelapandal.
BASF expects the first batches of recycled material to deliver to project partners later this year.
The plan is part of a broader effort among petrochemical manufacturers to create a circular economy, which permanently puts to bed the notion of waste and ultimately decouples “economic growth from the use of finite resources,” according to BASF.