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Can mattresses bounce back into the loop?

Researchers at West Virginia University are pioneering a solution they think could advance the frequently overlooked niche of mattress recycling in the US.

The Mattress Recycling Council (MRC), established by industry players to operate recycling programmes in states with mattress recycling laws, is providing over US$ 87 000 (EUR 85 000) to the project. Currently these are California, Connecticut and Rhode Island.

MRC’s scheme known as ‘Bye Bye Mattress’ has had some success and the council says 77% of a discarded mattress is recycled. However, this is mainly wood and metal with textiles considered something of a recycling headache. Hence the MRC initiative focusses on mattress textiles, largely cotton which makes up about 23% of the product. Around 455 tonnes of cotton have been recovered from recycling facilities to serve the experiments, the council notes.

The work led by professor Sunidhi Mehta of the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design, part of the West Virginia University, will look to recycle the used textiles to replace single-use plastics with biodegradable products. ‘Textile recycling is not easy to do,’ she says. ‘Over a period of time – up to 10 years of use – the mechanical properties of textiles degrade a lot so it’s very hard to recycle them into viable products. The only place they can go is to the landfill. Some degrade and some do not.’

The R&D team will try to convert cotton fibres from recycled mattresses into a biodegradable composite material. Collaborators include Louis McDonald, professor of environmental soil chemistry and soil fertility; and Rakesh Gupta and Edward Sabolsky from Benjamin M. Statler College, another part of the university. Gupta and Sabolsky will use 3D printing to create a wide range of consumer products such as beverage straws, eating utensils or packaging.

If all goes well, the researchers envision replacement products for shoes, sports equipment and even cars.

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