Mattress and furniture industry call to end reliance on chemical flame retardants

A new consensus statement from UK mattress and furniture representatives has called for a reduction in chemical flame retardant use, improved chemical transparency and traceability, and measures to encourage sustainable product design.

In June 2023, Fidra hosted a roundtable event for industry experts and policy makers to discuss the impacts of chemical flame retardant (CFR) use in UK mattresses and other furniture items.

Concerns around the impact of CFRs on public health and the environment are well documented, but CFRs are also a burden for industries wishing to improve product circularity and sustainability.

In a new consensus statement, industry experts outline innovative and pragmatic solutions to achieve effective fire safety without relying on harmful chemicals.

Although not mandated, CFRs are seen as a cost-effective way of passing the UK Furniture and Furnishing (Fire) (Safety) regulations (FFRs) 1988 (1). Currently, UK regulations are amongst the most prescriptive for upholstered furniture items in the world, contributing to globally significant CFR exposure rates being recorded amongst the UK public and wider environmental pollution (2). These requirements have been increasingly criticised as being outdated and ineffective; other countries with no or less prescriptive furniture fire safety regulations have demonstrated similar declines in fire fatality trends as the UK without the use of CFRs (1; 2; 3).

In addition to growing concerns over the health and environmental implications of these chemicals, CFRs also present significant barriers for industry, limiting options for reuse and recycling, and requiring on-going management of evolving chemical restrictions (2; 3).

In a new consensus statement, major companies from across the UK mattress and wider furniture industry supply chains outline their concerns and recommendations for achieving effective and sustainable fire safety.

These include a move away from “harmful chemicals, such as CFRs, wherever possible”, improved standards of chemical transparency and traceability, and amendments to the FFRs to facilitate a reduction in CFR use and support innovative product design; UK FFRs are currently being reviewed through a government consultation, ‘Smarter Regulation: Fire safety of domestic upholstered furniture’, which will be open for responses until 24th October 2023.

Amongst growing public concern in the UK around the state of its rivers and wider natural environment, and unacceptable waste management practices, this statement offers practical solutions. Whilst the expert opinions shared are focused on CFRs and the current outdated furniture fire safety regulations, the concerns and solutions outlined help address wider issues of chemical pollution and product circularity.

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