Resource efficiency and recycling
All products at some point reach the end of their working lives. In that respect, flexible polyurethane starts with a major advantage: it is made to last as long as the product it is used in, from several years in bedding applications, up to decades for some upholstered furniture.
Our factsheet published in 2017 provides for an overview of possible end of life solutions for flexible polyurethane foam in mattresses and furniture. The conclusion of our factsheet is that:
The way in which products containing large quantities of PU foam will be treated at the end of their life cycle in Europe is expected to change drastically in the coming years. The first and most welcome of these changes will be to divert vast tonnages from landfills. While these tonnages will have to be absorbed by energy recovery in the foreseeable future, there are a number of stakeholders across the European Union that are working at finding other ways to treat individual materials such as PU foam at the end of their life.
It is the PU foam industry’s belief that in the mid-term a number of end-of-life options will coexist. As for all plastics, energy recovery will remain part of the solution for the proportion of PU foam that will not be re-used or recycled otherwise or that cannot be recycled anymore because it has reached the end of its usable life.
Some of the technologies considered have been available for quite some time but still need to find the proper economic model to operate, while others are still under development or need to demonstrate their value in terms of lifecycle improvement. There are also a number of technical and legal challenges that must be overcome. It is therefore difficult to predict which technologies will allow for the successful recycling of EoL PU foam in the future and at which pace. But clearly, the number of EoL treatment options available will be much more diverse than today.
Public authorities at EU level and in the Member States have a strategic role to play in creating the framework in which recovery and recycling technologies can develop and thrive: via research funding and promotion of pilot projects, via the creation of a stable investment environment and by tackling some of the legal challenges highlighted in this document.
The PU foam supply chain has since the very beginning of the industry in the 1950’s worked hard to re-use waste at the production stage. It has considerably reduced its environmental footprint over the past decades. The use of raw materials from renewable sources is increasing drastically as new technologies are being put on the market. With this state of mind, it confidently also looks forward to improving the ways it product is addressed at the end-of-its-life.