The manufacture of bedding products—such as bedframes, sheets, blankets, comforters, bedspreads, and mattress pads—and the fibers they are made from affect not only our health but also the health of the environment. Thankfully, consumers have environmentally friendly choices—such as organic bedding—that can also minimize their health risk.
Sleigh beds, sofa beds, canopy beds, headboards—whatever a bed’s shape, it’s made at least in part of wood, a very popular construction material for furniture. Wood is a growing business with the US representing almost one-third of the global wood-buying market.
The earth’s land surface used to be approximately 46 percent forest, but today, nearly half of the world’s original forests have been cut down to meet worldwide wood demand and only one-fifth remain untouched. An average of 20 million hectares (an area the size of England, Scotland, and Wales combined) are cut down every year and in the next 30 years, global wood consumption is expected to double.
Bedding textiles made from either synthetic or natural fibers, or a combination of both, endure multiple processing steps, including spinning, dyeing, weaving, scouring and sizing. For example, cotton threads are treated with starches or sizing so they are easier to weave. This sizing is washed out before caustic chemicals are used to remove debris and dirt from the fiber. Every time the fiber is flushed with water, there is an opportunity for wastewater contaminated with volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and bleach (which produces dioxin—a human carcinogen) to enter the environment.
In the US, 33,000,000 mattresses are produced annually and 20,000,000 discarded. The synthetic materials in conventional mattresses don't biodegrade and recycling programs for mattresses aren’t readily available, due to the difficult disassembly process. Where available, they consist of separating the toxin-laden steel, wood, and cotton elements, and extracting the polyurethane foam, which can then be downcycled into other products.
- volatile organic compounds (VOCs): Organic solvents that easily evaporate into the air. VOCs are emitted by thousands of products including paints, cleaning supplies, pesticides, building materials and furnishings and they may cause immediate and long-term health problems.