You could be saving the planet in your sleep, or at least minimizing the impact of your mattress on the planet. Eco-friendly mattresses differ from the standard bed in that they use greener materials and fewer chemicals, and are recyclable.
The visible outer layer of a typical mattress is made of polyester, which may also be blended with cotton. Polyester is typically petroleum-based and non-biodegradable. Greener manufacturers stick to organic cotton or wool.
The squishy stuff under the cover is often polyurethane and polyester quilting and padding surrounding wire coils. Arguably the most eco-friendly mattresses on the market replace all this metal and petroleum-based padding with a core of natural rubber latex.
Flobeds is one of the leaders in natural latex mattresses, but several competitors have entered the natural latex market. Flobeds makes customized beds using three layers of latex in varying firmnesses. The latex is made with no petrochemicals from sustainably harvested, natural and renewable rubber trees.
There also are standard mattresses with some green credibility. The Pure Echo mattress has a standard spring system, but uses organic cotton and natural wool instead of synthetic fibers or standard cotton.
The Pure Echo and natural latex mattresses also have fewer chemicals than most standard alternatives.
Polyurethane foam emits volatile organic compounds that have been linked to respiratory diseases and skin irritation. Some brands of memory foam are known for the heavy chemical smell of these VOCs and other materials off-gassing in the mattress.
In addition, many mattresses are treated with chemical pesticides and flame retardants that may also be dangerous to both your health and the environment. Some major mattress manufacturers have phased out toxic flame retardants, replacing them with wool and other more natural flame barriers.
Moreover, without any of these chemicals, rubber latex is naturally hypo-allergenic, and free of dust mites, mold and mildew.
The future use of your mattress materials is as important as their history. A more durable mattress is more eco-friendly. Even a traditional mattress full of chemicals and polyester earns some eco-friendly points if it lasts longer than the 5-year expected lifespan of some cheap mattresses.
That’s because it’s difficult to reduce, reuse or recycle a used mattress. Many thrift stores don’t accept used mattresses, and used mattresses can be less than desirable. They may be soiled or infested with bedbugs. Even landfills may be reluctant to accept mattresses because mattress springs can damage their compactors.
There are a few mattress-recycling companies, including St. Vincent De Paul in California and Oregon, and Nine Lives Mattress Recycling in South Carolina. St. Vincent De Paul claims it can recycle about 85 percent of the mattress, including most of the cotton, steel and wood, but options are limited for recycling polyester and some other materials. Also, it can be expensive to get the mattress to these recyclers.
Again, rubber latex offers a better option. It is completely biodegradable and even compostable. When I bought my Flobed mattress, they sent latex samples, which I fed to my compost worms. It took a few months, but the worms ate the latex.
If you want to reduce your environmental footprint in the bedroom, look for a biodegradable natural latex mattress with organic cotton and wool, and minimal chemicals.