Persistent Organic Pollutants in waste upholstered domestic seating

Information and guidance about Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs)

Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) are certain chemical substances that are known to stay intact and do not break down. If waste containing these is not managed responsibly, they have the potential to cause damage to the wider environment.

The POPs found in waste upholstered domestic seating (including sofas, armchairs, upholstered dining and office chairs etc.) are usually present as a result of a flame retardant chemical, decabromodiphenyl ether (decaBDE), which has been banned since 2019 and is no longer used.

Some waste upholstered domestic seating has been found to contain levels of Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) above the legal limit. As a result, new compliance procedures came into effect on 1 January 2023. This meant that local authorities responsible for managing waste upholstered domestic seating were required by law to change their processes for dealing with waste potentially containing POPs.

What furniture contains Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs)?

The majority of soft furnishings in your home will have fire retardants applied to them in order to meet Fire Safety standards. It is possible that some of these items will have fire retardants that contain identified POPs but not at levels that can cause concern to the environment.

Any soft furnishing item that is less than three years old (i.e. bought new after 2019) should not contain fire retardants using the current list of identified POPs. The legislation however requires that such items are all segregated at the point of disposal. This is to ensure that all items potentially including POPs are fully and safely destroyed, which is why you may be asked to place your item in a different location for disposal when you visit an HWRC.

The domestic items covered under the legislation is only related to waste upholstered domestic seating, as these items were found to contain the highest levels of POPs.

Waste upholstered domestic seating includes:

  • Sofas
  • Armchairs
  • Futons
  • Sofa-beds
  • Upholstered dining chairs and office chairs
  • Beanbags
  • Floor cushions
  • Upholstered stools and foot stools

There is no requirement to treat other soft furnishing items from your home differently when disposing of them.

How should I dispose of my upholstered domestic seating?

Any upholstered domestic seating items that you no longer wish to hold can still be passed on for reuse provided the item is not damaged (beyond minor repair) and has a fire safety label attached.

Donating to charity

Sending items suitable for reuse to charities helps supply affordable furniture and other household items to those in need in Hampshire.

The potential for pollution and harm to the environment from POPs increases at the waste management phase and this is why there are new regulations for how to manage this waste.

Charities will still be able to accept good quality furniture for reuse provided the items meet conditions set out in law to ensure the item is suitable for reuse; for example if there is no damage to the fabric and the fire safety label is still attached.

Fire safety labels on sofas and armchairs must state compliance with The Furniture and Furnishings (Fire Safety) Regulations 1988 (amended 1989 and 1993).

There are other outlets for reuse, including websites such as Gumtree, eBay or Freegle. For additional information visit Smart Living.

Takeback schemes

You can contact the retailer you purchased your item from for information on manufacture take-back schemes.

Please check the manufacturer website when purchasing a sofa or other upholstered domestic seating item. It is likely that take-back schemes will differ from company to company and there may be a small charge.

If you wish to discard/dispose of your upholstered domestic seating item as waste, it is advisable that that the item is kept whole where feasible.

Items not suitable for reuse can be disposed of through your local Household Waste Recycling Centre (HWRC), excluding the sites located in New Alresford, Hayling Island and Hartley Wintney.

Ensure the items are kept whole where possible. Any damaged parts must be kept contained to minimise the risk of textiles or foam escaping into the environment on transit through to disposal. Ask a member of staff on arrival at the site about where to place the item or if you require any assistance.

Alternatively, please check your local authority website for details of kerbside bulky waste collections. Find your local authority

Can I take my unwanted upholstered domestic seating to the Household Waste Recycling Centres (HWRCs)?

Most of Hampshire’s Household Waste Recycling Centres (HWRCs) are able to accept waste upholstered domestic seating.

HWRC's which are unable to accept waste upholstered domestic seating are:

  • Alresford
  • Hayling Island
  • Hartley Wintney

This is due to the smaller size of these sites.

Can I put my waste upholstered domestic seating in my kerbside residual waste bin?

The law requires that any waste upholstered domestic seating is kept separate from all other waste where it is reasonable and feasible to do so.

Do not dispose of your unwanted upholstered domestic seating in your recycling or residual waste bin. Your waste upholstered domestic seating should be taken to a Household Waste Recycling Centre (HWRC). Find out about HWRCs and book an appointment

You can check your local authority website for details of kerbside bulky waste collections. Find your local authority

For alternative ways to manage your waste and resources such as reuse and repair, visit Smart Living:

Smart Living, minimising waste in Hampshire homes

Will my local authority still collect my unwanted upholstered domestic seating in their bulky waste service?

Services for the collection of waste upholstered domestic seating and other bulky items may differ from area to area across Hampshire. There may be a small fee applied.

For details on bulky waste services in your area check your local authority website.

For alternative ways to manage your waste and resources such as reuse and repair, visit Smart Living:

Smart Living, minimising waste in Hampshire homes

How is Hampshire County Council dealing with waste containing POPs?

Waste upholstered domestic seating containing Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) which is brought to one of the Household Waste Recycling Centres (HWRCs) will be sent for Energy Recovery in line with legislative guidance.

Any waste containing POPs will be safely incinerated to generate electricity, ensuring these chemicals are destroyed or irreversibly transformed and cannot be released into the wider environment.

For more information on this process, visit Veolia’s Energy Recovery page

When did the new compliance procedures come into effect?

The new compliance procedures came into effect on 1 January 2023.

Why can’t I cut up my sofa (or other upholstered domestic seating) to take it to a HWRC?

It is important that waste upholstered domestic seating is kept whole where possible.

Taking upholstered seating items apart increases the risk of allowing the Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) to be released into the environment and may increase your risk of being exposed to them.

Is my upholstered domestic seating dangerous?

The risk of exposure to POPs to the public from any upholstered domestic seating in the home is low. The potential for pollution and harm increases at the waste management phase when the items may become broken up or damaged ahead of disposal and this is why there are new procedures for how to manage this waste.

Any potential risk to health from exposure to chemicals in the home can be greatly reduced through good housekeeping; such as regular vacuum cleaning, washing hands before meals and ensuring any damage to upholstery is repaired as soon as possible.

Secondhand furniture

Hampshire County Council supports reuse wherever possible in line with the waste hierarchy by prioritising waste prevention and reuse over other methods of disposal. Reusing items of upholstered domestic seating remains a good use of resources and helps reduce our collective environmental impact.

The risk to the public of reusing upholstered domestic seating is low (provided items meet the conditions for reuse). The potential for pollution and harm to the environment increases at the waste management phase when the items may get broken up for disposal, and this is why there are new procedures for how to manage this waste.

As a general safety precaution, you should check that the item is in good condition with no rips or tears as this increases the risk of exposure to Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs). Note that for upholstered seating items the fire safety label must remain in order to be used again. Labels on sofas and armchairs must state compliance with The Furniture and Furnishings (Fire Safety) Regulations 1988 (amended 1989 and 1993).

Charitable reuse organisations will be aware of this but please be mindful when using other online reuse outlets.

For alternative ways to manage your waste and resources such as reuse and repair, visit Smart Living:

Smart Living, minimising waste in Hampshire homes

Is my new sofa (post 2019) still flame retardant?

All domestic seating produced must meet stringent UK flammability tests that comply with the Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations 1988.

Any items purchased after 2019 will still meet the requirements of the Fire Safety regulations, but the chemicals used in this process are not classified as Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs).