eco friendly mattress

Reducing the Carbon Footprint in the Mattress Industry

There are many concerns that can keep us awake at night. We worry about finances, work-related stress and family woes. We consider the state of the world, politically and environmentally. What we don’t always realize is that one solution for improving our environmental conscious is right beneath us as we sleep.

We could swap out our mattress for something a little more eco-friendly. For example, a movement towards inflatable beds could dramatically reduce the number of petrochemicals consumed in memory foam mattress construction.  There are a few more ways to do this. While some favor the idea of latex foam, others see greater potential in PVC-free inflatable beds, bamboo, and even wool.

This guide will look at the following issues and solutions for greener mattresses.

What is it about these traditional foam and spring mattresses that are so negative to the environment?

  • The move towards more environmental forms of foam and latex, to try and offset these issues.
  • The problems that still remain with this “greener” foam solution.
  • The potential of inflatable beds as a green alternative to foam and springs
  • The future of green mattresses and sleeping solutions.

Negative Environmental Impacts With Traditional Mattresses

guest bed in livingroom

The problems with spring and foam mattresses fall into several important categories. These issues will become clear with the discussions on different materials and solutions.

  1. the problem of the materials used within the mattress – both their source and environmental impact.
  2. the environmental cost of manufacture and shipping.
  3. the risk of fumes and chemicals in the atmosphere of the home.
  4. the longevity of the product, and knock-on effects when it becomes a waste product.

1. The Materials

The first problem here is the source of the materials within many foam and traditional mattresses. The foam often comes from a man-made source, such as polyurethane or even petroleum. This is a problem with current issues of climate change and sustainability. Plastic and fossil fuels are two of the biggest enemies of the eco-warrior right now. If we want to reduce the use of fossil fuels, we don’t really want to burn them while creating products that also contain them. These old forms of foam mattresses have to go.

2. Pollutants from Manufacture and Transportation of Mattresses

There are the fossil fuels and plastics in the mattresses themselves, then there are the emissions from the processes. A lot of energy goes into creating these mattresses, which means carbon emissions from factory and plants. Then there are the air miles and vehicular miles in the transportation of materials and goods.

3. Fumes And Chemicals Emitted

These polyurethane foam mattresses can emit VOCs (volatile organic compounds). These fumes contaminate the local atmosphere in the bedroom, which is a health concern to occupants. Consumers aren’t imagining things when they buy a foam mattress and have to let it breathe for a little while.

4. Longevity and waste of these mattresses

There is a big problem with the mattress when it becomes too old and worn out. What do we do with this mattress when we need a new one?

Most of the time the mattress becomes a mass of non-biodegradable materials on the landfill. Even worse, there are occasions where people dump them in the country because they have no better solution. The mixed materials of traditional mattresses – spring, wood, foam, and fabric – rarely worth the effort of sorting.

There is a movement towards more environmental forms of foam and latex, to try and offset these environmental carbon footprint issues.

There is a clear desire to turn to greener forms of memory foam mattresses. The reason for this is sometimes less about the environment and more about the sleep experience. We tend to believe that memory foam is the best option for a good night’s sleep.

This astronaut inspired dense foam works with the shape of the body to cradle us in the right position. We don’t always want to give that up in the quest for a totally environmental alternative. So, greener foam mattresses are still preferable to something like inflatable mattresses for daily use.

guest bed in attic

There are some companies that claim to offer a greener approach to the foam mattresses to ease our minds. They promise greener sources of foam and other materials. The biggest difference here is the use of latex instead of polyurethane – a more natural material with fewer risks. There are also smaller packages with these squashed down foam mattresses. More online shopping and potentially fewer transport emissions.

Finally, there is the potential for downcycling the materials. We have all heard of recycling and upcycling – these are the positive green words to do with waste products. They turn an item into something better and new. Downcycling takes an old material and creates a lesser product. This is possible with some foam mattresses – but only where services are available. Clearly, the eco-friendly or green foam isn’t as green as many users hope for.

Remaining Problems With “Greener” Foam Solution

Downcycling highlights the first problem with this “greener” foam solution. The main issue here is that greener doesn’t always mean eco-friendly. It all depends on the scale of the improvement. It is like using a more efficient fuel in the car. Drivers can go further and reduce usage, but it is still a dangerous fossil fuel and pollutant.

Just because there is an improved use materials and processes, that doesn’t mean that they are ideal and super-green. There are three important factors to consider here:

  • latex is better than polyurethane, but not perfect
  • there is no guarantee that these greener foam mattress are free-from nasty materials
  • there is a troubling lack of standardization on green and natural products.

Starting with the latex, this is a natural material from the rubber tree. This means it is natural and more appealing than polyurethane or petroleum. Yet, there is still a potential cost. Increased demand requires plantations of rubber trees. This could mean big business cultivation and deforestation.

There is still the risk of the long carbon footprint of the materials between the source and production. Also, there is no guarantee that a latex, greener mattress doesn’t have some polyurethane in it. Some brands claim to be more natural and safe with as little as 10% plant-based materials.

This is why is it important to remember the lack of standardization in labeling products green and natural. Consumers shouldn’t trip over clever marketing when the materials don’t back up the claims.

Inflatable beds A Potential Green Alternative

So that brings us to the potential of the inflatable air mattress as an alternative, green solution. Many forget about the air mattress. This is something associated with the guest room or the campsite, not the bedroom. But, it doesn’t have to be that way. The first benefit of this approach is the filling – or more accurately the lack of any filling.

There are no springs, no nasty chemicals in any foam, just good normal air. The only materials come in the casing, the simple sack that inflates and keeps a steady form. This requires few materials, just something strong and flexible enough for the job.

Naturally, there will be some concerns here about the materials used in this aspect of the mattress. Old fashioned inflatable beds used PVC and other non-natural materials. They are not exactly the greenest materials. Some would argue that this does balance out against the amount of cheap, un-environmental materials in the foam mattresses.

Either way, they are some brands looking into more environmental materials for their air beds. This means some with polyester and TPU coatings for durability. There are also PVC-free options and other strong, natural solutions. Many of these options are still light, and tough, they also make less noise.

Then there is portability and durability in these mattresses. This is one mattress for different needs. This guest mattress isn’t relegated to the guest room if users find it comfortable. They have a place in all sorts of situations.

They are ideal for avid campers that spend their time outdoors as much as indoors. This gives them mattress to set up and take down as needed. They can pack it up, take it to the camp and set it up in the tent as a true home away from home. Other homeowners can inflate one as needed for children sleepovers, visiting relatives, and other needs.

This is a great solution to the problem, but one that put aside as unsuitable. The air mattress seems to not be the first or the most desirable option. Maybe this is because of those associations with camping and guestrooms.

Perhaps it is because of an assumption that users won’t get as good a night’s sleep with this type of mattress. However, inflatable mattresses have come a long way.  They are now higher with multiple layers, easier to get on top and out of.  Some setups roll in a case, have an electric pump build-in, and have legs to raise the height. Different sizes like a twin for a child but also a queen for couples.

Whatever the problem here, environmentally-minded consumers should reconsider these inflatable beds. This is especially true with these new materials in production.

The Future Of Green Mattresses And Sleeping Solutions

The best, most environmental mattress is the one that lasts for a very long time and will biodegrade when no longer fit for use. It will ship to the door in a small package, from local suppliers, with minimal impact on the environment. The future of the green, reliable mattress lies in many issues:

  1. the materials used to create them
  2. the manufacturing and shipping processes
  3. the lifespan of the products

1. The Materials

There are lots of different materials that are suitable for use in mattress and sleeping aids. Many prefer organic materials, for the lack of chemicals or pesticides in growth and manufacture. This means organic cotton covers and padding. Others take this a little further with wool mattress pads. Wool is easy to get, natural and healthy. If is a soft, allergen-resistant material from a sustainable source. Then there is bamboo – the material of the moment. Bamboo is incredibly versatile and beneficial. It has healthcare properties while remaining tough and durable. The fibers contribute to all kinds of materials for environmental alternatives to man-made fibers. Again, it is sustainable and obtainable. It is the fastest growing crop around and easy to grow and supply.

bamboo plants

2. The Manufacturing Of The Products

The processes are always going to be a problem with these mattresses. This is true with either traditional or inflatable mattress. Ideally, the materials will come from local suppliers. Local plantations growing bamboo or local dairy farms supplying the wool. This means fewer air miles and emissions in manufacture and shipping. An organic mattress will also need less chemical processing and read the labels to be sure.

3. The Lifespan

Finally, the future of green mattresses must include those that are recyclable. Inflatable mattresses have a good chance here if made from one piece of recyclable, sustainable material with no innards. More simplistic designs stand a better chance than recycled foam options. This is another reason to support greener inflatable beds.

There are answers to the problem of dangerous materials of mattresses. Some are more accessible than we might think.There is a lot to consider here, as we lie on our current mattress and think about the changes we can make.

First of all, there is a lot wrong with current mattress options. This is not a sustainable model for those that want to improve their environmental carbon footprint. Traditional mattresses involve too many materials and processes. We are sick of seeing them on curbs or dumped in the woods.

Memory foam models are better in some respects, but only if there is enough of a switch to plant-based, sustainable materials. It is pretty easy to get sucked into sales pitches of a greener, kinder mattresses, and then find there are still other problems.

There are two solutions right now. One is a short-term fix for the here and now, and one is a little more distant. In the future, there is hope for better, greener mattresses that meet environmental criteria in many ways. They will use fewer parts, fewer processes, and fewer chemicals.

natural cotton

This means environment products with cotton, bamboo, wool and PVC-free shells. They will also have the benefit of local production and easy recycling. Until then, there is the great option of the PVC-free inflatable beds. This fills that gap nicely. It provides a foam and plastic free solution, with improvements to manufacturing and shipping. They are simple, effective and durable.