Waste is a global issue involving several industries, and the mattress industry is no exception. We spoke with Michaela Stephen, co-founder of MATR, an award-winning startup born to address this largely overlooked problem, particularly in the tourism industry.
Europe discards 30 million mattresses annually; if stacked, they could reach the height of Mount Everest 678 times. This shocking statistic spurred Michaela and her co-founder Verena Judmayer into action. “When Verena and I learned of this, we were shocked by the huge waste, and unfortunately, the industries built around this are not always thinking about the materials used and the end-of-life disposal…” explains Michaela. This issue is also present in Austria, where 1.4 million mattresses are discarded every year. “That’s 81 times the height of Gross Glockner, Austria’s tallest mountain,” Michaela expresses.
The root of waste
The biggest obstacle when tackling mattress waste is the difficulty of recycling. “The majority are made with materials that can’t be recycled or fully reused,” Michaela explains, noting that sometimes natural materials are glued to synthetic ones, complicating material separation. “There are just many flaws in the design that promote their end as waste.”
MATR’s mattresses are designed to be quite the opposite. “Our solution is to design ones that don’t have to end up as waste and to facilitate the change and correct disposal of the previous mattresses,” explains Michaela. They work with EU suppliers using two fully recyclable materials: steel and polyester, combined with a patented technology that allows for easy separation. “The materials are kept in their purest form so they can stay in the loop of circular production.”
As for the mattresses MATR replaces, it’s crucial in Austria to send them to the correct disposal entity. “The problem is when those old mattresses are not recyclable, all we can currently do is take them away and send them to the Müllverbrennungsanlage to produce energy.”
MATR and the tourism industry
“With one purchase decision, a hotel can impact an entire supply chain,” says Michaela. As a startup, MATR is focused on working with the Austrian tourism industry, primarily with hotels already interested in sustainability. “The challenge for hotels is knowing where to start, especially when recovering from recent hurdles like the pandemic,” Michaela clarifies, noting that the concept of a circular economy is still in its infancy within the tourism industry. “With so much regulation coming, hotels will need to reduce their carbon emissions per room by 66% by 2030. While a mattress alone won’t solve the entire problem, it certainly plays a part,” she concludes.