26 November 2009 | Carly Chynoweth
An innovative Ministry of Justice (MoJ) scheme for purchasing mattresses and pillows for prisons has won two prestigious awards.
The department's Zero Waste Mattress Project won the Guardian newspaper's Public Service Award for Sustainability on Tuesday, a week after it took the procurement gong at the 2009 Civil Service Awards.
The project involves replacing old and worn mattresses and pillows, which are difficult and costly to dispose of, with new, higher specification ones, the overall cost of which includes disposal. The MoJ expects this to achieve annual savings of £1.2 million. Since bedding for the 85,000 offenders in UK prisons has to be highly fire retardant, as well as containing no parts that could be used for self harm, suicide, concealment of contraband or harm to others, it could not simply be incinerated. The Prison Service was binning 40,000 used mattresses and pillows each year - the equivalent of 31 double-decker buses going to landfill.
Geoff Sykes, head of procurement compliance at the MoJ, said: "[It] was clearly unsustainable, from a cost perspective and because of the damage we were doing to the environment. So we had the idea of an integrated project that involved both the supply and disposal of the mattresses. By pulling it together into an end-to-end project we will make significant savings." The cost of supplying each individual mattress is now slightly higher, because it incorporates the cost of disposal, but the total cost is considerably less than when the two aspects were done separately. These savings are being realised immediately because there was no upfront cost to making the change,
Sykes said. "We would have been obliged to re-tender anyway, and we have not had to pay anything more [to move to the new approach]." Now that the mattresses and bedding are higher quality they will need to be replaced less frequently. "We had expected a 20 per cent increase in mattress life, but actually we are seeing an increase of up to 100 per cent, so we could end up saving considerably more than £1.2 million in the future," Sykes added.