In the US, 33,000,000 mattresses are produced annually and 20,000,000 discarded. Both natural (cotton and wood) and synthetic (foam and chemical treatments) materials in conventional mattresses contribute to environmental problems throughout a mattress' lifecycle. And when trashed, they often end up in landfills where they don't readily decompose.
In today‘s conventional mattresses, the most common materials used are man-made. They‘re derived from petrochemicals and from natural gas, which are nonrenewable resources. Additionally, mattresses are treated with fungicides, pesticides, and flame retardants, including potentially dangerous polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs). If they contain recycled steel springs there may also be heavy metals present, and other contaminants from the steel recycling process.
Cotton farming uses only about 3 percent of the farmland around the world, but it consumes 25 percent of all chemical pesticides and fertilizers. When conventional cotton is grown, large amounts of toxic synthetic chemicals are used, which includes pesticides, dyes, fertilizers, and fixers. On average one-third of a pound of pesticide is used to make one t-shirt.
Insects are becoming resistant to current amounts of pesticide applied, making it necessary to apply stronger pesticides in greater quantities. Billions of pounds of nitrogen synthetic fertilizers are used on cotton crops leading to runoff that creates "dead zones" in waterways. Rivers and soil also end up with waste in them from chemicals in dyes and fixers that are not absorbed by cotton due to its natural resistance to dyes.
The wood in box springs can contribute to deforestation and all its negative environmental impacts if it is unsustainably harvested. Thirty million acres of tropical forest are cut down annually, with the US accounting for almost one third of global wood-buying sales.
The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) guarantees a wood product's eco-friendliness. FSC certifies wood that is sustainably harvested and supports the growth of responsible forest management worldwide.
Related health issues
American adults spend on average of almost seven hours a night sleeping, being exposed to the chemical contents of mattresses and bedding, inhaling and absorbing them through the skin. Chemical fabric treatments, pesticides, artificial colors and dyes, and toxic flame retardants may have all kinds of detrimental health effects, from headaches to serious allergic reactions.
What's more, synthetic materials have poor air circulation and trap moisture, an ideal environment for dust mites and microbial growth. This is a problem for people with allergies.
- polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE): Foam and other furniture fillings are commonly treated with fire-retardants such as polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs, which have been linked to brain and reproductive system disorders. A healthier alternative is wool, which is naturally fire resistant.