Sofas, office chairs, entire bed frames - and above all, huge piles of mattresses. Felix Meier couldn’t believe what he saw when he visited the Werdhölzli waste disposal site in Zurich. Waste is nothing new for the biochemist - as CEO of the Pusch Foundation, it is his job. The organisation works to promote environmental protection for communities, schools and corporations, demonstrating how to dispose of waste cleanly.
Felix Meier was simply unable to forget what he saw at the waste site. «We just shouldn't be throwing away so many things,» he says. He very quickly changed the Foundation's focus to concentrate more on preventing waste rather than disposing of it. Circular economy is the buzzword here. The aim is to use raw materials for as long as possible to save resources. Because the supply is finite. When products wear out, we should be repairing, renovating and reusing them, rather than simply throwing them in the trash. And if they are too damaged for repair, they should be recycled so that each component can be used again.
We just shouldn't be throwing away so many things.
Felix Meier, CEO of the Pusch Foundation
Felix Meier and his team are supported by the Migros Pioneer Fund - the Migros Aid Fund (see panel below). The partners intend to establish the sustainable model primarily in the furniture sector, and to that end have launched the «Make Furniture Circular» project. «Like garments, people change their chairs, tables and even mattresses ever more frequently,» explained Meier. And as his experience of the waste disposal site showed, they harbour huge potential for materials that can be rescued from death by fire. Every year in Switzerland around a million mattresses are thrown away, creating 30,000 tonnes of waste, including fabrics, foam material, wool, metal, horsehair, wood and other materials, all of which can be reused.
The UK recycling company TFR Group is setting an example. They run a large-scale operation to break down old mattresses and reuse 60 percent of the materials for the manufacture of items such as gym mats. And in the Netherlands, recycling has been around for a long time.
Longer bed lifetimes thanks to bed leasing
Switzerland has a way to go in this respect. But there are initiatives intended to extend the lifetime of mattresses. Elite, a manufacturer in Aubonne, Vaud, has launched a bed leasing scheme for hotels. «‹Smart Lease› enables possible hoteliers to pay for mattresses and beds according to occupancy,», says CEO François Pugliese. Every overnight stay is registered, providing a measure of the wear on each mattress. Mattresses are replaced in line with occupancy - thus delaying wear. «Depending on the amount of use they get, our mattresses last for 15 to 25 years,» remarks Pugliese. Other hotel mattresses would have to be replaced every three to five years. Every year in Switzerland around a million mattresses are thrown away, creating 30,000 tonnes of waste.
Elite also uses natural materials such as horse hair and silk. It means that mattresses can be freshened up, or at least recycled more easily. The company is a trailblazer in this sector - although as yet there are few imitators.
To change this, the Felix Meier's project team issued an invitation to a workshop. At the beginning of the year, mattress manufacturers such as Elite, furniture retailers such as Micasa, and recycling companies such as Innorecycling met up to exchange ideas on extending the life of mattresses, and recycling them at the end of their life. The good news is that the logistics are already in place in that most furniture retailers take back old mattresses. And the workshop attendees believe that the circular economy for mattresses is a good thing. «The volume is huge, so the potential is there - although the devil lies in the detail,» comments Markus Tonner, CEO of Innorecycling. And Migros subsidiary Micasa is «very interested» in collaborating, explains Mr Flückiger - Micasa's representative.
Business model in the service of the environment
The circular economy is a major topic for the Migros Pioneer Fund. «The linear economic model of 'produce-use-throw' has reached its limits, so we want to establish the circular economy in Switzerland,» states Project Leader Corinne Grässle. The result will be a more sparing and efficient way of handling resources, and less waste. «It helps the environment and provides an opportunity to develop new business models.» That's why the Migros Pioneer Fund has launched five projects around the theme, including «Make Furniture Circular».
The Migros Pioneer Fund backed by Migros companies such as Denner, Migros Bank, Migrol and Migrolino, is part of the Migros Group's social engagement. Every year it invests 10 percent of the dividends, between 10 and 15 million francs.
Photo/stage: Roger Hofstetter