Dumped mattresses on nature strips are a common annoyance on most suburban streets. As well as looking untidy, the act also indicates a lack of care from the mattress’s former owner to take responsibility for their waste.
Mattresses are made of a combination of materials which can make them hard to recycle. Many owners simply don't know what to do with them, and waste managers often face the same problem. An astonishing 41 per cent end up in landfill. But a bold new plan will see them added to a priority list with an end goal of seeing them “disposed of in an environmentally appropriate manner”.
In an unexpected twist, it’s not consumers who are being asked to take responsibility but the manufacturers and importers themselves. On Monday, the Albanese government added mattresses to its Product Stewardship Priority List for 2022–23, along with tyres and healthcare products.
On Tuesday, environment minister Tanya Plibersek announced the government’s stewardship program will be “one of the most efficient and cost-effective ways to reduce a product’s impact on the environment and human health”.
Later that day, she visited the Soft Landing recycling facility in Canberra, which has the ability to create one new job for every 35 mattresses which are recycled.
That facility has the ability to remove metal components from mattresses and send them to manufacturer BlueScope Steel to be reused in other products. But she warned many mattress brands incorporate components that are hard to recycle.
“My message to mattress manufacturers is get your act into gear,” she warned. “The fact that mattresses have been listed on the Minister’s Product Stewardship List now is mattress importers and manufacturers being put on notice. If you don’t get your act in gear, then I’ll take action to regulate.”
More than 1.8 million mattresses discarded in Australia
The government’s plan will see mattress design investigated with a view to improving the technology that breaks them down into individual parts.
Around 1.8 million mattresses are discarded in Australia each year, according to the Australian Bedding Stewardship Council (ABSC). While 59 per cent of mattresses are shipped to recycling facilities, up to 64 per cent of their overall weight goes to landfill because of problems reusing many of the components.
Formed in 2020 to help reduce mattress waste, the ABSC welcomed the government’s announcement, adding it was thankful for Commonwealth grant to help develop a scheme with will provide end-of-life solutions for mattresses. ABSC also plans to add a $5 fee to mattresses in order to fund its objectives for the next five years.
“There are a variety of recycling schemes and programs in operation through individual sellers and manufacturers, but we believe a whole-of-industry approach … is the best way to solve these issues,” its CEO Vernon Fair said.
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