The Fight to Destroy Waste Domestic Seating POPs

The road to destroying persistent organic pollutants (POPs), such as the chemical flame retardants lurking in domestic seating waste, is a bumpy one. That’s why Fidra are working to promote sustainable fire safety that doesn’t rely on harmful chemicals. Recent updates on restricted flame retardants found in domestic seating reinforces the call for urgent change if we are to protect public and environmental health, as well as our future circular economy.  Read on to find out more about the Environment Agency’s recent announcement on POPs in domestic seating and visit our website to learn more about Fidra’s work. 



Why we need to destroy POPs through high-temperature incineration 

Just because we cannot see the long-lived chemicals in the foam and fabric of domestic seating and upholstered furniture doesn’t mean they should be ignored. Persistent organic pollutants (POPs), such as the chemical flame retardants in the upholstered seating that you may be sitting on right now, have often been used for domestic upholstered furniture and furnishings to pass strict, yet outdated, UK flammability tests.


Chemical flame retardants such as decaBDE were once widely used in items such as soft furnishings until restrictions under the Stockholm Convention1 forced UK industry to phase out its use from 2006 onwards. There were concerns over the detrimental effects of decaBDE on human health and the environment.2 The chemical was eventually banned from use in all upholstered furniture in 20193. Still, the lifespan of decaBDE-treated items means that a significant legacy issue exists, and careful waste management and destruction by heating to at least 850 °C (gas residence time 2 seconds) is required to deal with this problem.2,4 

Measures to reduce chemical exposure from waste POPs 

From January 2023, the Environment Agency have put in place a ruling to incinerate the POPs that reside in high-risk items, such as domestic seating, at the end of their life.5 Fidra welcomes this forward-thinking ruling that should divert POPs contaminated upholstered domestic seating waste away from landfills. The ruling also prevents the re-use, recycling and mixing of POPs contaminated items with other non-contaminated wastes.5 

The bad news, however, is that waste recycling centres and local authorities have limited time to ensure that the infrastructure and resources needed for dealing with potentially toxic domestic seating wastes are in place. Constructive conversations between the Environment Agency and industry will need to shape the essential guidance for industry.6 If not handled carefully, the Environment Agency’s waste domestic seating incineration rulings to tackle POPs may result in ‘waste furniture mountains’ and increased cases of illegal fly-tipping.7 

 The ‘safer’ alternative flame retardant chemicals that we find in our most modern items are also suggested to be detrimental to human and environmental health.8 Updating UK fire safety regulations to reduce reliance on chemical flame retardants and introducing requirements for full chemical transparency and traceability could help prevent this problem from occurring again. Unfortunately, the ‘UK Furniture and Furnishings Regulations 1988’ use outdated and ineffective testing procedures that require the excessive use of chemical flame retardants. These old regulations need to change to protect environmental and human health. 

Improving the UK’s circular economy and reducing incineration costs 

Fidra welcomes future efforts by environmental agencies to test ‘lower priority’ items of furniture and furnishings (such as mattresses) that are excluded from the current UK domestic seating incineration ruling. Extended producer responsibility (EPR) will be an essential tool as we advance towards a safe circular economy. Chemical traceability during furniture manufacture and retail could also help encourage product innovation, reducing the need for excessive chemical use and avoiding expensive chemical testing and hazardous waste disposal.  

 Overall, the bumpy road to a POP-free environment reinforces the urgent need to address current chemical management practises, ending the use of harmful chemicals and introducing mandatory chemical traceability, to ensure a safe and successful circular economy.  


Support our call for change 

Visit our website to learn about sustainable fire safety and sign up for our newsletter. If you want to help phase out the use of chemical flame retardants, consider writing to your local MP and support our call for safe and sustainable fire safety without harmful chemicals.  


  1. Sharkey, M., Harrad, S., Abou-Elwafa Abdallah, M., Drage, D. S., & Berresheim, H. (2020). Phasing-out of legacy brominated flame retardants: The UNEP Stockholm Convention and other legislative action worldwide. Environment International, 144, 106041.
  2. Defra (2021) National Implementation Plan for the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants.
  3. Defra (2021) Briefing Note: Feedback from Defra working group for domestic seating waste.
  4. McKay, G. (2002) Dioxin characterization, formation and minimization during municipal solid waste (MSW) incineration: review. Chemical Engineering Journal, 86, 343-368.
  5. website. Accessed 29 Sept (2022)
  6. website. Accessed 29 Sept (2022)
  7. website. Accessed 29 Sept (2022)
  8. Blum, A., Behl, M., Birnbaum, L. S., Diamond, M. L., Phillips, A., Singla, V., Sipes, N. S., Stapleton, H. M., & Venier, M. (2019). Organophosphate Ester Flame Retardants: Are They a Regrettable Substitution for Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers? Environmental Science & Technology Letters, 6, 638–649.