New report investigates impacts and solutions for chemical flame-retardant use in mattresses

In August 2023, the Office for Product Safety and Standards launched a consultation on UK furniture fire safety standards, providing a much-anticipated opportunity to promote more sustainable & effective alternatives to chemical flame-retardant use in furniture products. Fidra’s new report, developed by circular economy consultants, Oakdene Hollins, takes a deep dive into industry perspectives and economic impacts of chemical flame-retardant use within UK mattresses.

New Analysis of Chemical Flame Retardants  

Concerns surrounding the impact of chemical flame-retardants (CFRs) on the environment, public health and the circular economy are well documented, with many progressive furniture manufacturers now seeking more effective and sustainable means of achieving fire safety (1). New research by circular economy experts Oakdene Hollins, commissioned by Fidra, undertakes an in-depth review of stakeholder perspectives on CFR use within the mattress industry and the potential economic impacts under contrasting future scenarios (2).

Stakeholder Perspectives

The study included interviews with 14 representatives from across the mattress and wider furniture industries, including manufacturers, retailers, trade associations, waste managers and recyclers. Discussions highlighted a pattern of uncertainty around the effectiveness of the current Furniture and Furnishing (Fire) (Safety) Regulations (FFRs) 1988 and the common use of CFRs to meet furniture fire safety standards. Stakeholders shared doubts as to whether CFRs are fit for purpose given some are known to exacerbate smoke toxicity; smoke toxicity was identified as “the largest cause of death from fires in a recent report by the Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS) but is not currently included within the scope of furniture fire safety regulations (3). There were also concerns of potential future restrictions on CFRs following a history of ‘regrettable substitution’, the replacement of one restricted chemical within another with similar potential for harm. These, amongst other concerns, were seen to hinder “future proofing” and present a significant on-going commercial risk for the industry.

Economic Impacts

A separate economic analysis considered five possible future scenarios outlining potential changes to the FFRs and CFR use. As with the stakeholder interviews, one of the key findings was the level of uncertainty encountered under a ‘business-as-usual’ scenario.  This primarily referred to the effectiveness of the FFRs and the UK’s chemical regulatory body, UK REACH (registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals), in key impact areas, such as fire safety, sustainability, human and environmental health, and economic stability. The scenarios also considered the impact of CFRs on mattress recycling. One scenario addressed the hypothetical introduction of a ban on mattress recycling and landfilling due to end-of-life mattresses containing significant concentrations of restricted CFRs.  This is now the case for waste upholstered domestic seating items, requiring all affected items to be incinerated under a new ruling by the Environment Agency (4). Lack of chemical transparency and traceability was highlighted to exacerbate the impact of such a ban, resulting in an inability to separate unaffected recyclable items and consequently causing a greater loss of materials and greater burden on waste management authorities. Impact mapping from across the scenarios concluded the need to amend the current FFRs to “reduce reliance on CFRs. This could then be complimented with other initiatives to further improve circularity, such as the introduction of chemical traceability measures and Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) schemes.

Opportunity for Change

The report concludes the need for a “timeline for the revision of the FFRs”, which should encourage a reduction in CFR use, as well as incorporating a stronger focus on “fire safety in relation to fire smoke toxicity, environmental sustainability, environmental and human health, and economic viability. The long-awaited consultation on the UK’s furniture fire safety regulations, launched August 2nd, brings with it a unique opportunity to promote more effective and sustainable solutions to fire safety, and ensure the recommendations from this report are realised. It is therefore imperative for stakeholders to maximise the opportunity presented by this consultation by submitting strong, evidence-based responses.

Fidra are continuing to work with representatives from the mattress and wider furniture industries towards more sustainable approaches to fire safety. To stay updated on Fidra’s consultation response and other project developments, follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter. To find out more about Fidra’s work on Sustainable Fire Safety, contact us via:


Fidra Resources on Sustainable Fire Safety

The Impacts & Solutions for Chemical Flame Retardant Use in UK Mattresses: Stakeholder Perspectives and Economic Analysis.

Oakedene Hollins report, commissioned by Fidra. July 2023.

The Impacts & Solutions for Chemical Flame Retardant Use in UK Mattresses: Evidence Review

Fidra report. April 2023.

The Impacts & Solutions for Chemical Flame Retardant Use in UK Mattresses: Evidence Review Summary

Fidra report summary. April 2023.



1.Fidra. Managing Chemicals of Concern within a Circular Economy: The Impacts and Solutions for Chemical Flame Retardant Use in UK Mattresses. s.l. : Fidra, 2023.

2. Oakdene Hollins for Fidra. Managing Chemicals of Concern within a Circular Economy: The Impacts and Solutions for Chemical Flame Retardant Use in UK Mattresses – Stakeholder perspectives and economic analysis. s.l. : Oakdene Hollins, 2023.

3. Office for Product Safety & Standards . Fire Risks of Upholstered Products. s.l. : Office for Product Safety & Standards , 2023.

4. Environment Agency . Waste Upholstered Domestic Seating – Information to help you ensure you comply with the existing legal requirements for waste containing Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs). [Online] 2022.