Raw materials manufacturer Covestro and Eco-mobilier, a non-profit eco-organisation approved by the French Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy Ministry that organises collection and recycling services for used furniture and mattresses, have joined forces in an effort to further develop waste markets for the foam used in these applications. The two have now signed a collaboration agreement designed to form the basis for a long-term partnership aimed at generating value from discarded upholstered furniture and mattresses at the end of life.
Year after year, large quantities of used furniture are generated worldwide that must be disposed of in some way. Landfill and incineration are currently the most common routes for disposal of these products. Covestro and Eco-mobilier have now joined together to establish an end-of-life solution for these products with less environmental impact.
The two companies are combining their expertise to develop a business model to chemically recycle the polyurethane foam from post-consumer mattresses and upholstered items.
As an accredited EPR organisation, Eco-mobilier has extensive experience in the collection, logistics and processing of used furniture and mattresses and upholsteries. It will collect nearly 1.2 million tons of used furniture, 95 percent of which will be recycled, with the aim of achieving zero waste for furniture by 2023.
Its main activities are dismantling the used furniture and presorting materials in order to obtain pure foam parts as raw materials for recycling.
Covestro has developed novel technology to chemically recycle the foamto recover its two constituent ingredients: polyol and toluene diamine (TDA), which is the precursor to toluene diisocyanate (TDI). The technology builds on the company’s participation in the PUReSmart project, a Europe-wide research project which is coordinated by Recticel, which sought to significantly improve the recycling of and establish a completely circular product lifecycle for polyurethane foam.
The recycling process starts with the collection of used mattresses, which are dismantled and the foam parts separated out. An important part of the collaboration will be to further develop the decentralised dismantling process of mattresses to avoid having to transport he foam parts to the chemical recycling plant. Some of these foams contain additives and fillers that make reprocessing. more difficult. Covestro has therefore developed an intelligent sorting solution for separating the different PU foams from post-consumer mattresses. The software uses algorithms to correctly identify the different foam types, which promotes an effective recycling process.
The actual recycling starts with a chemolysis step to dissolve the foam flakes, which is followed by purification steps and the hydrolysis to TDA. This TDA is then further converted into isocyanate.
At a later stage, the two partners also plan to evaluate possibilities and develop a similar procedure for recycling furniture upholstered with polyurethane foams.
"The partnership between Eco-mobilier and Covestro will allow to increase and to diversify the existing solutions for the chemical recycling of PU foam and to extend the perspectives for a material which had been considered, yet recently, as non recyclable,” said Dominique Mignon, President of the French organisation.
"We are thrilled to complement Eco-mobilier´s unique expertise in furniture recycling with our chemical recycling technology in this powerful partnership,”added Christine Mendoza-Frohn, Executive Vice President & Head of Sales EMLA for Performance Materials at Covestro. "The strategic intent of our collaboration is to design and validate a joint pilot model to encourage and make real an accelerated adoption of recycling and reusing polyurethane foams from used furniture in Europe and beyond."