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Mattress Industry Post-Coronavirus Pandemic: The Need to Pivot to Recyclability

The coronavirus pandemic has raised questions, caused concerns and heightened awareness of our responsibilities as a nation and as individuals. Its aftereffects will place higher demands on all manufacturing, and mattress manufacturers are no exception. The question is — will they be prepared? The loss of lives due to the coronavirus has been tragic, and we’re not through it yet. However, one outcome of the pandemic is that it has led to a greater sense of social responsibility. Our country has sheltered in place in an effort to save lives, even as health care workers jeopardize their own lives to save others. Social responsibility has trumped capitalism through things like the enactment of the Defense Production Act. Manufacturers, including mattress manufacturers, are making masks and gowns for essential services like police, firefighters and food purveyors. Companies like Ford and General Motors found supply chains and within weeks were able to mass-produce masks, face shields and ventilators. As a Wall Street Journal article commented, “United by a singular purpose and freed from bureaucratic restraints, traditional companies like Ford are suddenly more nimble.”

These times have provided important lessons, and a story appears to be evolving — a story that will impact the landscape and perspective of our daily lives. Governments and lawmakers will be held more accountable, there will be more forward-thinking, laws will be enacted to create better preparedness and, most of all, there will be a greater awareness of our social responsibility. We aren’t abandoning capitalism, but capitalism will be held to a higher moral standard.

The President and much of the media are trying to assure us that the economy will survive and be better than ever. Assuming it does, I believe we will have a changed mindset. Customers will likely have a heightened sense of responsibility to each other and the environment. This shift may force legislators to expect even greater responsibility from manufacturers — and the mattress manufacturing industry will be forced to adapt.

Pre-pandemic: Changing environmental expectations Before the pandemic, not a day went by without the media making us aware of global warming and toxic gases — waste products from manufacturing, farming and fossil fuel use that cause the greenhouse effect. Mattress manufacturers have been experiencing greater pressure to contribute to the recycling efforts of environmental agencies. In Europe and the UK, more aggressive legislation and timelines demand sustainably manufactured products.

In the US, there has been a push to compel proper recycling through legislation. California already imposes on the mattress retailer to collect or pay for collection of the old mattress they are replacing. New York’s proposed 2020 state budget included provisions that would require an industrywide recycling program funded and administered by mattress manufacturers. It is only a matter of time before all states impose recycling regulations.

The Mattress Recycling Council (MRC) has worked hard to efficiently collect old mattresses in the states where it operates — California, Rhode Island and Connecticut — but the cost of separating the fabric from the coil in a pocketed coil system means the process is not economically feasible. Many units are still sent to landfills, hampering recycling’s ultimate goal of converting waste into reusable material. Mattress manufacturers’ role.

Still, environmental organizations continue to push total recycling, and legislative agencies continue to enact more laws regarding mattress recycling. The responsibility falls squarely on the shoulders of the mattress manufacturers to find ways to produce sustainable and truly recyclable products. With the present environmental consciousness and heightened sense of social responsibility, consumers will also demand sustainable products.

But most current mattresses throw a massive wrench in the recycling works — literally. Mattress recyclers can strip away fabric and foam. It’s a simple task to melt and recycle scrap metal; folks have done that for decades. But when it comes to mattresses, each metal coil has a wrapper of fabric attached with temperature-sensitive glue. Before the springs can be melted, the fabric has to come off each and every spring. Because a queen-size mattress typically contains more than 1,500 individually wrapped and glued coils, it’s not feasible to remove the fabric by hand. As a recent article on mattress recycling in The Guardian reported, “According to the (UK) National Bed Federation (NBF), only about 19% of mattresses are recycled. The reason? They are a nightmare to recycle – it’s the springs. ‘They’re a machine killer.’”

In Texas, a mattress-manufacturing solution For the pocketed spring to be recyclable, a more efficient, cost-effective way of separating the fabric from the springs is needed. A sustainable product must eliminate the contamination of glue. In the race to achieve this goal, Texas Pocket Springs is positioned to be a leader. Besides producing a superior pocketed coil system, the company has developed an industry-proven, patented, disruptive technology that bonds coils without glue. The GlueLess® Innerspring Assembler renders the coil totally sustainable and at the same time more economical.

Next up? Texas Pocket Springs has also worked diligently for years to find an effective way of stripping the fabric from the coils so that the pocketed coil innerspring can be recycled economically. While the solution isn’t yet a done deal, I have no doubt it’s on the way.

Many manufacturers of pocketed coils are in family-owned businesses, passed on from generation to generation, and are proud of the stability and comfort their systems provide. If we want the next generation to have a thriving business, it is our responsibility to create a sustainable product and find a cost-effective way of separating the fabric from the spring. Texas Pocket Springs’ GlueLess Innerspring Assembler is the answer to half of the equation, and I am happy to be a part.

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