Industry Discussions Address Chemical Flame Retardants and the Circular Economy

In June 2023, Fidra hosted industry experts and policy makers to discuss the long-standing reliance on chemical flame retardants in UK mattresses and other furniture and furnishing items. Concerns around the use of chemical flame retardants for health, the environment and the circular economy are well documented, but they can also be burdensome for industries wishing to innovate more sustainable fire safety solutions and improve product circularity. Discussions worked to identify more effective and sustainable methods of fire safety.

Chemical Flame Retardants

The UK’s current Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations (FFRs) 1988 have resulted in large volumes of chemical flame retardants (CFRs) being used in mattresses and other furniture items found in our homes, contributing to the exceptionally high CFR exposure rates recorded amongst the UK public (1). Other countries with less prescriptive furniture fire safety requirements have demonstrated similar declines in fire fatality trends to the UK without relying in CFRs, casting significant doubt over the effectiveness of the UK’s current approach (2,3,4). This, combined with increasing evidence of the detrimental health and environmental effects of CFRs, has resulted in a call to amend the UK’s current furniture fire safety regulations and reduce reliance on flame retardant chemicals.

CFR use also presents a significant barrier to our circular economy. This was highlighted in new research commissioned by the Environment Agency which identified high levels of decabromodiphenyl ether (decaBDE), a CFR now restricted under the Stockholm Convention, in waste upholstered domestic seating (5). Affected items are now required to be incinerated rather than reused or recycled, placing a substantial burden on local authorities (6). Emerging evidence connecting alternative flame retardants with similar human and environmental health concerns demonstrates a significant and ongoing challenge for products still reliant on CFRs to meet current fire safety standards (2).

Industry Roundtable

In June 2023, Fidra hosted a roundtable event in which policy makers and experts from across the mattress industry joined to discuss ways forward. Throughout the day, numerous pragmatic and promising solutions were presented, demonstrating a broad desire for innovative products that achieve effective and sustainable fire safety without relying on CFRs.

Fidra are continuing to work with attendees and will be coordinating an industry consensus statement to summarise key findings from the event. If you are a mattress manufacturer, retailer, recycler or other relevant stakeholder and would like to know more, please contact the Fidra team via:



1. Breast Cancer UK. (2017) BCUK Background Briefing – Flame Retardants. Breast Cancer UK.

2. Fidra. (2023) Managing Chemicals of Concern within a Circular Economy: The Impacts and Solutions for Chemical Flame Retardant Use in UK Mattresses. Fidra.

3. Page, J., Whaley, P., Bellingham, M., Birnbaum, L.S., Cavoski, A., Dilke, D.F., Garside, R., Harrad, S., Kelly, F., Kortenkamp, A. and Martin, O. (2023) ‘A new consensus on reconciling fire safety with environmental & health impacts of chemical flame retardants.’ Environment international, 173, p.107782.

4. House of Commons, Environmental Audit Committee. (2019) Toxic Chemicals in Everyday Life. House of Commons, Environmental Audit Committee.

5. WRC, Environment Agency. (2021) An assessment of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) in waste domestic seating.

6. letsrecycle. (2022) Waste sofas ‘must be incinerated’ because of POPs, EA says. Available at: (Accessed: 24th January 2023).