IKEA U.S. Introduces National Mattress Recycling Program

October 31, 2018
IKEA
Sustainability Manager, IKEA North America Services

Background

An estimated 18 million mattresses with box springs are disposed of in the United States each year, resulting in approximately 50,000 mattresses a day ending up in landfills across America. Some of these mattresses are illegally dumped, adding to landfill waste.

At a minimum, 80% of a mattress can be recycled. The fabric and foam can be turned into carpet underlay, and the felt and cotton can be recycled into new felt and insulation. The wood gets recycled into biofuel or other recycled wood products, while the plastic and steel can be recycled or turned into new products. 

Strategy

In keeping with our People and Planet Positive sustainability strategy, IKEA is committed to taking a lead in turning waste into resources. We are committed to securing recycled materials while ensuring key parts of our product range are easily recycled, all contributing to a closed-loop society.

As part of our goal to send zero waste to landfill, we introduced a mattress recycling program in the fall of 2017. By recycling mattresses, we can conserve resources such as steel, foam, and wood that can be used in new products.

Program

Our goal in introducing this program was to recycle all used mattresses within our operations. This includes old mattresses of any brand that are picked up when a new IKEA mattress is delivered, as well as all mattresses that are returned by customers at IKEA stores.

Through the program, all mattresses returned by customers and those removed from displays in IKEA stores are individually bagged, taped, and stored outside our buildings until they are ready to be picked up. The mattresses are transported to recyclers throughout the United States, which are secured by our national waste provider.

In addition, through our mattress removal service, we pick up customers’ used mattresses for a small fee with the purchase of a new IKEA mattress.[1] This service is also occasionally offered for free to members of our customer loyalty program, IKEA FAMILY, at all IKEA locations. After being picked up from customers, these mattresses are transported by our home delivery transport providers to the same mattress recyclers that are contracted for our stores.

The mattresses picked up through our removal service make up a small minority of those recycled, as most come from our internal operations. The majority of the costs required to handle, store, transport, and recycle mattresses are incurred by IKEA.

Stakeholders

Development of the mattress recycling program was a multi-year process that engaged stakeholders throughout the organization, including sales, logistics, facilities, customer service, transport, home delivery, accounting, tax, risk, legal, stores, operations, and sustainability. The core group of functions that played a critical role throughout all phases of planning and implementation were sales, facilities, customer service, stores, transport, and home delivery.

Externally, we worked closely with our national waste vendor to coordinate efforts. We also engaged with several non-governmental organizations, such as the International Sleep Products Association and the Mattress Recycling Council.

Communication

The IKEA mattress recycling program was rolled out in October 2017. Following the announcement, we received positive media coverage, and numerous cities and companies reached out to learn more about the program and how it was implemented. From an industry perspective, we were the first large retailer to introduce mattress recycling nationally.

We also integrated information about the program into our external services communications. We work within strict IKEA guidelines for communicating any message to IKEA customers. Depending on the message we are trying to convey, we know what the correct carrier should be, and in what format and size.

Challenges

Unlike many other environmental initiatives, which can deliver a positive return on investment, mattress recycling comes at a high cost. Although most of the materials have a value in the secondary market, the process of separating those materials is still labor intensive. Therefore, any company willing to adopt this practice is paying for this service.

Another challenge is that many customers are looking for a place to dispose of their used mattress and would like retailers like IKEA to be drop-off locations for any type of mattress. Unfortunately, we are not set up to handle that kind of volume, nor do we have the resources or funding to accommodate products that are not official returned IKEA mattresses. There would also be additional risk if customers were to use IKEA stores to dump mattresses.

We also faced logistical challenges in select states that do not have mattress recyclers. This required us in some cases to transport mattresses to a recycler outside the state. The hope is that recyclers will recognize that there is a market potential to expand their business to neighboring states, supported by cities that want to improve their recycling programs and businesses that want to offer this service to their customers.

Impact

Less than a full year into implementation, we already estimate that we will recycle more than 40,000 mattresses through this program and expect that the total number will grow as we reach even more customers and grow the business.

We believe that taking responsibility for our waste while looking for opportunities to be more circular will have a long-term positive effect on the brand and drive other retailers to take action. We also believe that consumers want to shop with companies that are having on overall positive impact on people and the planet.


[1] The exception is in California, where state regulation requires the service to be offered for free.