The term Eco-Friendly simply means something, usually a product, service or process, that is easy on the environment. When measuring the eco-friendliness of the product, service or process, one should take into consideration the impact of the cradle to grave of the claimed product, service or process.
When claiming that a mattress is eco-friendly, of course it is nothing more than a marketing term, as there is no governing body officially deeming a product is eco-friendly. But with a few simple questions and observations, you as a consumer can discern for yourself a products environmental impact and whether you think it is friendly for the environment.
Let's look at the primary components of a typical mattress, as well as the manufacturing process, transportation modes and the disposition of the "dead" mattress to discern what to look for when deciding on an eco-friendly mattress. Remember, not all claims of eco-friendliness are legitimate, so do some homework so you can decide.
- What are the core elements of the product? There are traditionally coil mattresses, foam mattresses and air or water mattresses. These usually consist of a coil base, foam base, or air bladder or water bladder base, combined with some type of foam top, finished off with fabric. Where the materials are sourced from, manufactured and how they are disposed of should be factored into the overall impact on the environment. Typically, petroleum-based foam, such as memory foam, convoluted foam, high density foam, etc, are derived from petroleum and made with plastics and foaming agents. These types of foams draw from chemicals and synthetics, tend to off-gas when new, and don't decompose, making them poor candidates for eco-friendly designation. These foams can be recycled, if there is a nearby recycling facility, however, few are in existence. Steel coils have a minimum impact as the vast majority of steel used currently in the market is recycled and can be recycled again. Air and Water bladder based mattresses such as Sleep Number use vinyl bladders, which again is a synthetic, non-decomposing material. At the top end of the eco-friendly materials? Wool, cotton, pure latex, kapok, buckwheat hulls...all materials which are derived from natural sources, create a minimum affect on the environment in compare to their synthetic counterparts, don't create a harmful VOC, and can decompose or find a second life through recycling.
- Manufacturing origin and process. Typically, mattresses are created in the country they are sold. Being big and heavy, it is usually cost-prohibitive to ship a mattress to another country. However, through compress-packaging and bulk shipping, more and more foreign made mattresses are shipping to the USA. Ashley's Home Stores, for example, are utilizing Chinese-Made mattresses throughout their USA based home stores, shipping these mattresses from China to the USA compress-packed to lessen the environmental impact. However, with a vast array of manufacturers here in America, there is no reason a good quality mattress should travel more than the country of its origin. There can be a big impact on the environment when shipping a mattress half way around the world, considering exhaust, energy output and environmental practices in the country of origin. Another key factor when considering environmental impact is the manufacturing process of the product. How far does the raw material travel and by what means? Where and how is it derived, and how does the assembly and delivery to market impact the environment? These are all factors to consider when making your own determination of the environmental impact of a mattress.
- Lifespan is another factor when determining a mattresses impact on the planet. Obviously, if a mattress is designed to last a short amount of time, you will be disposing of and purchasing a new one in no time, leading to more waste. A mattress which can last longer will have a better score when considering its eco-friendliness. There are good and poor quality memory, or synthetic foams, some can last 3 years, some up to 15 years, with proper care. A good quality wool or latex mattress can last 15-20 years, again, with proper care. And a smartly designed organic mattress will be made in such a manner that allows the consumer to replace components over time, greatly increasing the overall potential lifespan of the mattress. Keeping mattresses out of landfills and in the bedroom longer is an important factor when considering a product's impact.
- Transportation: How is the mattress shipped? How many times is it shipped? How far was it shipped? These are factors to consider, as well as the means it was shipped. For example, a mattress made with components manufactured and assembled in the USA and then compressed and shipped via consolidated shipping, such as FedEx or UPS, within the USA is going to have a more minimal impact compared to a mattress derived from components in a foreign country, trucked to port, shipped via ocean going freighter, trucked to a warehouse, then trucked to your home. Energy output
- The Grave: What becomes of the mattress, organic or synthetic, once it has exhausted its usefulness. Can it feasibly and responsibly find a second life as another product, can it decompose in an earth-friendly manner or will it sit in a landfill for generations to come? Typically, petroleum based materials will be the worst offenders if they sit in a landfill. And typically, these products have the shortest lifespan as well. While they can be recycled and reused as other products, such as carpet padding and sound-proofing material, there are very few facilities currently to convert used mattresses. They end up piling up in landfills, taking forever to decompose and leaching harmful elements into the soil and air. Conversely, organic and latex mattresses are made with earth-friendly materials and processes and can last longer and die an earth friendly death through decomposition or find a second life through reuse.