In June 2023, environmental NGO Fidra and circular economy consultants Oakdene Hollins hosted a roundtable event with industry experts and policy-makers to discuss the long-standing reliance on chemical flame retardants (CFRs) in UK mattresses and other furniture and furnishings.
According to Fidra, the UK’s current Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations (FFRs) 1988 have resulted in large volumes of CFRs being used in mattresses and other furniture items, contributing to the “exceptionally high CFR exposure rates recorded amongst the UK public”.
Exposure to CFRs has been connected to adverse health impacts including abnormalities in neurological and reproductive development and carcinogenicity.
Many CFRs have also been recorded in the environment, contributing to global chemical pollution, contaminating the air, water, soil and accumulating in organisms. Reliance on CFRs also poses a problem to the circular economy, with lack of chemical transparency leaving recycling efforts vulnerable to contamination of materials with newly restricted or otherwise harmful chemicals.
Following the roundtable, the industry experts, which included IKEA, the Environmental Services Association, the National Bed Federation and the National Association of Waste Disposal Officers made several recommendations for achieving effective and sustainable fire safety.
The group recommended that the use of harmful chemicals, including CFRs, be avoided wherever possible, with substances of very high concern removed from product supply chains in a “timely manner”.
Where CFRs and other substances of concern are still used, the group recommended that products must be accompanied by chemical transparency and traceability, with digital labelling identified as the most effective option. The group stated that regulator support should ensure that digital labelling progresses in a “meaningful timeframe”.
The group also recommended that extended producer responsibility schemes for mattresses and other furniture items should incentivise responsible chemical management.