Sustainable Sleep – The new green shelf for mattresses

Both producers and consumers are waking up to the duties they have towards a better planet. How much of this intent is being translated into actual mattresses, and the process of making them or then, disposing them? Let’s roll that question over

It seldom occurs to us that the mattress we surrender to after a hard day has also travelled through a lot of carbon and environmental burden. Not to forget, the carbon baggage it still holds depending on how it will be disposed or how long it will be used.

The environmental impact of mattresses entail a lot of elements. It is not just about the scale and variety of chemicals that go inside them and around them during production (the fossils and pesticides notwithstanding) but also the overall green cost of their material-sourcing, manufacture, shipping and consumption. To add to that, there are added concerns that weigh heavily on this green impact like- a limited lifecycle and ‘conversion of a mattress to a waste product’ after a short duration of consumption.

Mattress and Carbon

A myriad ways exist wherein a simple mattress can wreak seemingly-small but substantial damage on the planet:

  • Emission of fumes and chemicals in the atmosphere
  • Harmful materials that go into manufacturing of mattresses
  • Health risks arising from petrochemicals, blowing agents and adhesives used in foams, dyes and additives etc.
  • Use of toxic VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) (from flame-retardants, for example, that many memory-foam mattresses used for a long time)
  • Foam-making materials like polyurethane or petroleum that were predominantly used in old-kind of mattresses
  • Energy use and emissions from the mattress-making processes that entails both factory emissions and the carbon impact of transportation of materials and goods
  • The problem of responsible disposal of mattresses since most products use non-biodegradable materials and a lot of mixed materials (spring, wood, foam, and fabric) that makes it difficult to sort, recycle or environmentally-conclude a product

But times have started changing. As per a Prescient & Strategic (P&S) Intelligence Private Limited report in September 2018, there is an unmistakable surge in demand for eco- friendly mattresses with an increase in public awareness on environmental issues such as toxic pollution, VOCs emitted from polyurethane-foam mattresses. There is an appetite for natural and organic products which is tilting the market towards eco- friendly mattresses. Consumers are not only becoming aware about, but are also demanding use of eco-friendly materials like organic cotton, natural latex organic wool, hemp, animal hair, organic cotton and wool, natural latex foam and coconut fiber. The way use of renewable and biodegradable materials is rising and the way responsible manufacturing is becoming part of the product’s proposition – it’s a clear sign that mattresses have been flipped towards a greener tomorrow.

Not to forget, now players are also seriously innovating on various aspects. Consider Kurlon’s offerings built on Anti Microbial Technology that prevents growth of bacteria and is resistant to dust mites. Or Sleepwell’s Neem Fresh Technology that deters bacteria and dust mite-breeding

Mattress and Green Innovation

Let’s have a quick look in the various ways – both inside and outside a mattress – that sustainability is entering this space:

  1. Advent of carefully designed organic and natural mattress brands that use healthy and non-toxic materials
  2. Attention and interest to alternative mattress materials like natural latex, organic cotton, organic wool and organic bamboo that are devoid of harsh flame retardants or chemicals
  3. Decrease in the use of polyurethane, chemical adhesives, dangerous pesticides, and other off-gassing chemicals
  4. Use of eco-friendly production practices
  5. Inclination towards local production and direct-to-consumer models of logistics that reduce transport-side carbon impact of the mattress industry
  6. Innovation and efforts in recycling and down-cycling so that old materials/mattresses can be used as new ones
  7. Radical formats like inflatable or filling-less mattresses or astronaut-inspired foam works
  8. A broader and discernible move towards plant-based materials like cotton, vegetable oils and tree-tapped latex; as companies forgo foam and try options like wool or bamboo

Some examples:

Restolex:

Claims to use natural latex for eco-friendly customers. Uses latex with pencil pin-core structure for better ventilation; and high-density latex from 75 to 85 for more comfort. It states that even natural latex mattresses can include a significant percentage of synthetic filler content. The company claims that it uses 100 percent natural latex without resorting to artificial fillers.

Dreamzee

Claims use of 100 percent Natural Latex Certified Mattress which is naturally resistant to dust mites, mould and bacteria without the use of any chemicals. It also prides on the use of Dunlop process with pin-core formation and certifications from ISO and ECO INSTITUT.

King Koil

Claims use of 100 percent eco-friendly mattress that is made with pure organic latex block covered with thin-quilted viscose fabric.

Latosleep

Is Eco Institut-Certified by lab studies to test many products for VOC levels. Also says it is GOTS-Certified (The Global Organic Textile Standard certifies that wool is organic by examining wool-harvesting and production processes). In addition, it is claimed to be Organic Content Standard (that cotton cover is organic). No use of fillers, layers and lamination for cast-cutting and Manufacturing latex core batch process.

Happsy

Claims use of certified organic, sustainably harvested and environmentally-friendly materials. Absence of harsh chemicals, foams and adhesives used by conventional mattress brands.

Zenhaven

Tells it uses organic materials with all-natural latex, 100 percent organic New Zealand wool, and organic cotton with support of Talalay manufacturing process, which is entirely water-based and produces minimal amounts of environmentally harmful byproducts.

Brentwood

Use of organic materials like organic cotton, natural latex, and Joma New Zealand wool; and claimed to be responsible- made in Los Angeles, following rigorous standards for environmental responsibility and the health of the consumer. The company also states it has a partnership with Carbonfund to offset its carbon footprint.

Avocado Green mattress

Use of certified-organic cotton, 100 percent natural latex, 100 percent Joma New Zealand wool; and rated the top mattress by consumer reports for 2018. Also, says it provides vegan mattresses.

Beware of green-walls and green-washing

Although, it is a good sign that some manufacturers and brands are adopting the word ‘green’ and ‘eco-friendly’ with a new-found enthusiasm; let us not get carried away while picking the real winners. Challenges and half-baked efforts still prevail. It is not so easy, for instance, to really down-cycle a mattress. Latex or green foam is better than polyurethane, but it is still not sure-shot green. There is still confusion over synthetic latex, blended latex and pure latex. This makes it easy for certain brands to piggyback on the green wave and convince customers into buying something that is not necessarily ‘green’.

The yawning gap that stays on lack of standardization on green and natural products as well as the absence of competent certification bodies – those are some other factors to worry about. Claims of ‘green’ products are still made by using just 10 percent plant materials.

Even use of latex can pose a new kind of environmental burden when we relate it to the use of plantations and deforestation of rubber areas as seen in regions like Amazon and some forests in Asia. Synthetic latex can include chemical styrene-butadiene that can be toxic to the lungs, liver and brain. If latex is coming from a rainforest region of southeast Asia, where bio-diversity is being harmed or endangered species are being affected, then it is not really so eco-friendly, after all. The shift towards jungle-rubber instead of mono-plantations can re-inject the lost diversity of forests and hence, balance human and wildlife needs well.

Then, let’s note the use of wool and cotton. They also release methane into the environment and consume nitrogen fertilizers in a heavy degree.

It is, hence, advisable to watch out for the labels carefully while going for a sustainable mattress. It is not enough to look for a natural material but also observe what percentage of that material has been used and what production process has been employed for it. A look into the inner cross-section of the actual mattress can reveal a lot. Making sure that pesticide or toxic chemicals are minimal is not only good for the planet but for one’s health too.

Ultimately, a bit of the duty also falls upon the customer. While comfort should not be compromised for a green-chase, one can always do some diligence on finding out the actual carbon footprint that includes material sourcing, plantation use, process of manufacturing and water usage. Most importantly, making sure that a mattress is properly recycled and not dumped too early or anywhere – that shows more respect than buying a green mattress. This extra effort will not only save landfill space but will also help in material recovery.

In the assessment of Mathew Chandy, Managing Director, Duroflex World, “Natural, organic and bio- degradable products are a crying need. We don’t yet have a good solution to mattress recycling. This is a major pain point for the industry.”

The awareness and marketing forces towards greener mattresses are long-due needs of this industry. It is encouraging to see various stakeholders of the industry becoming cognizant about the impact they leave and the impact they ‘should’ leave. Green mattresses may be still a long way to go; but if companies and consumers keep going on this path, it would be heartening to see ‘greener’ mattresses for sure. That’s one more reason to sleep better and peacefully.

ISPF is an industry body which promotes importance of sleep and role of mattress for a Indian consumers. ISPF plays very important role in connecting Indian bedding industry ecosystem. ISPF also acts as bridge between India and international players.