Circular Economy in Motion: the Mattress Market

Response from the foam industry to its circularity challenges
Circular Economy in Motion: the Mattress Market
Publ. date 2 Apr 2020
Worldwide, the mattress market is estimated at a sizable €23 billion. In line with global growth of our population, this market has been predicted to further grow with annual 6.5% between 2017 and 2024. With almost 90% of all mattresses produced in the EU containing between 2 and 15 kg of hard-to-recycle polyurethane foam each and increasing pressures from legislation, mattress manufacturers are starting to lose sleep over finding less impactful solutions.

With the past Foam-Expo in Stuttgart on 10-12 September 2019 having dedicated its third day fully to sustainability, it is high time to showcase three novel paths of sustainable mattress innovation.

“…go to the mattresses.” What does that mean?
- Meg Ryan in You’ve Got Mail

Today, (too) many mattresses end up on street curbs with no other prospective use than landfill. As governments are becoming increasingly aware of the complex circular economy challenges and with mattresses featuring in the top 5 of landfill material around the globe, the European bedding industry is quickly taking in the effects of the European Commission’s 2015 Circular Economy Package. Since that announcement, mattress producers and chemical companies have set out on a quest to find more sustainable solutions. As polyurethane foam decomposes rather than melts at elevated temperatures, re-using it in new products poses a significant challenge. Nevertheless, several interesting alternatives have appeared on the market already.

DSM and Niaga

Royal DSM, the global science-based company active in health, nutrition and materials, cemented a joint venture with start-up company Niaga. Niaga, the backward spelling of “again”, essentially is a team of re-designers focused on making products healthier and fully recyclable. DSM-Niaga first took up the challenge of creating a new type of glue that delaminated carpets on command when exposed to a signal. Using this reversible glue to bond the two basic layers of most carpets, a polyurethane foam and a polyester fibre top layer, enable more complete recycling of the carpets, a major challenge to the carpet industry. The reversible glue is also made of polyester, the same material as the top layer, so it does not stand in the way of the polyester recycling process.

With this first success under its belt, DSM-Niaga has moved on to a bigger challenge: the mattress market. Similar techniques are being developed, with the ambition to develop a 100% recyclable mattress by 2020. To that avail, a long-term partnership was forged with bedding specialist Royal Auping to tackle landfill and incineration of mattresses and increase the use of renewable materials in mattresses.

Dow’s RENUVA program

DSM-Niaga was not alone in recognizing the massive circular economy opportunities presented by the vast amount of non-recyclable polyurethane mattresses. Late 2017, Dow Polyurethanes announced a collaboration with Germany-based plant manufacturer H&S Anlagentechnik to jointly develop recycled polyols from end-of-life mattresses.

The newly developed RENUVA™ Polyols are high-value raw materials created from the conversion of end-of-life mattresses that can be tailored for different applications as well as used as a starting point for new foam mattresses. In its development, the RENUVA team managed to achieve a replacement of up to 25 percent of the virgin polyol in conventional flexible foam recipes without deterioration of the foam physical properties. With these developments, the RENUVA™ Mattress Project has become the flagship initiative of RENUVA™, the circular economy program from Dow Polyurethanes, and it was recognized by the Business Intelligence Group with a Sustainability Products of the Year award in 2019.

COCO-MAT: sleep on nature

As early as 1989 Coco-mat entered the mattress market. This unlikely Greek start-up disrupted the market with a completely new view on mattress production. Made of natural materials, customized Coco-mat mattresses are engineered to create an elastic bed that adapts to any shape and form for support and comfort. Different layers of natural materials are combined to obtain just the right level of resistance for each customer, providing a new, customized sleeping experience.

After its inception, the company gradually introduced additional natural materials such as horsehair, cactus fiber, seaweed and lavender to further improve the quality of the mattress, making the bed even more special for each customer. Their bedding system proposition is complemented by a whole range of house products with the same “natural” proposition, from towels to bed sheets and furniture. Today, thirty years after its birth, Coco-mat is a mature player on the mattress market that is still using nature’s wisdom as a guide and source of inspiration without the use of polyurethane.

In perspective: the waste hierarchy ladder

The three aforementioned companies independently deliver distinctive improvement strategies addressing the challenge of dealing with vast amounts of notoriously hard-to-recycle polyurethane in traditional mattresses. The singular choices of circular strategies from DSM, Dow and Coco-Mat result in differentiated value propositions with characteristic strategic partnerships and different levels of impact. The waste hierarchy ladder is a convenient instrument to position these various alternatives and put them in perspective.


Circularity Strategy





Make product redundant by its function or by offering the same function with a radically different product



Make product use more intensive (e.g. by sharing products or putting multifunctional products on the market)



Increase efficiency in product manufacture or use by consuming fewer natural resources and materials

Dow RENUVA program

Extend lifespan


Reuse by another consumer of discarded product that is still in good condition and fulfils its original function

Dow RENUVA program


Repair and maintenance of defective product so it can be used with its original function



Restore an old product and bring it up to date



Use parts of discarded products in a new product with the same function

Dow RENUVA program


Use discarded product or its parts in a new product with a different function


Materials application


Process materials to obtain the same or lower quality


Dow RENUVA program


Incinerate materials and recover energy 


Source: Leleux, B., Van der Kaaij, J., Palgrave 2019, Winning Sustainability Strategies, Finding Purpose, Driving Innovation and Executing Change, Chapter 10, Towards a circular economy, (adapted)

Interested in more information on circular economy solutions?

In case you are interested in advancing your circular economy solutions, download our circular economy sprint document (see download at the top of the page), Alternatively, just send a mail to Johana Schlotter, at or call him at +31 6 28 02 18 80 to find out more.

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