It has been designed to tackle a major problem that sees 12,000 tonnes of waste being dumped every year north of the border. Around 500,000 mattresses go to landfill annually in Scotland, part of around 7.5 million across the UK.
Until now the bulky items have been disposed of in this way, taking up a lot of space and presenting an environmental hazard.
Ken Chrystal, site manager at Hamilton Waste & Recycling, designed the new system. He hopes to process 100,000 mattresses this year – around a fifth of Scotland’s total mattress waste – and more in future.
The firm has already signed deals with three local authorities in Scotland, and has received interest from England and Wales.
Talks are also under way with some of the country’s leading bed retailers, which offer customers an uplift service for used mattresses.
Five full-time workers are now employed at the specialist plant, located at Carberry in East Lothian.
“Mattresses going to landfill is a huge problem nationally,” said Chrystal, “partly because of the enormous volumes of space they take up, but also because of their nature – they create voids which fill with poisonous methane and can explode.
“Landfill sites hate them because they cannot be compacted, plus they’re potentially hazardous and harmful to the environment.”
The average mattress weighs around 28kg. Although they are labour-intensive to deconstruct, there is up to 10kg of valuable scrap steel in the springs in each one, and around 20kg of various grades of textiles.
“We recover the steel, as well as cotton, shoddy fibres, polyester, ticking, coconut hair – some materials have value, others have none,” said Chrystal.
“Recovered fabrics such as polyester are collected and go back into manufacturing, possibly to make new mattresses, while waste latex and foam can be chopped up and reused to make things such as carpet underlay.
“There is usually a part of the outer fabric that is too wet or heavily soiled to be reused, so this is used locally as fuel to produce green energy.
“With this new plant we can guarantee 100 per cent landfill avoidance.”
Hamilton Waste and Recycling recently became the first Scottish company to be awarded the Green Compass PAS 402 accreditation for recycling excellence.
The firm, which employs around 100 workers, also has specialist facilities for recycling plastics and building waste such as plasterboard and wood.
It was awarded £117,678 from the Circular Economy Investment Fund to drive the new project forward.
The £18 million fund offers investment and supports work that will deliver circular economy growth. It is administered by Zero Waste Scotland and backed by the Scottish Government and the European Regional Development Fund.
Iain Gulland, chief executive of Zero Waste Scotland, said: “Mattress recovery is a circular economy opportunity for Scotland that we have been pursuing for a number of years, and to see mattress reprocessing becoming possible on Scotland’s shores is a fantastic achievement – not just for the environment but for the Scottish economy.
“The Circular Economy Investment Fund offers businesses financial support to make transformative projects happen.”
Hamilton Waste and Recycling is aiming to process 2,000 mattresses a week, but Chrystal says there is potential to massively increase that number.
“We’re not at full capacity yet, but the site is fully operational and we will continue to expand and adapt,” he said.
“I’m hopeful this will become the norm, once people see the environmental benefits.”