Photo by Jeremy Doddridge on Unsplash

Considering we spend about a third of our lives in bed, it makes sense to consider what we are sleeping on and how it affects our health and the planet. Most mattresses last between only seven and ten years and accumulate lots of yucky stuff like sweat, saliva, dead skin, and dust mites, so if you are in the market for a new bed and want to make an environmental choice, you may be wondering what kind of mattress to buy and how to discard your old one.

According to Republic Services, 80% of the materials in mattresses are recyclable but 15 – 30 million mattresses get tossed into landfill every year. To donate your mattress, contact local charities directly about their policies as many no longer accept mattresses or box springs; however, you can recycle your old mattress pretty easily.

How To Flip Your Old Mattress

If you are replacing it with a new mattress: Mattress retailers in California are required by law to offer to pick up your old mattress when they deliver your new one. (There are exceptions when mattresses are deemed a health or safety hazard.) Mattresses are dismantled later so that the steel box springs, foam, fiber, and wood can be recycled into new products. This infographic shows what happens when mattresses are recycled. 

If you are not buying a new mattress but merely getting rid of an old one, OR you are ordering a new one online and having it delivered via the postal service, UPS, or FedEx, you can drop off the old one yourself so the materials can be recycled through Bye Bye Mattress, a program of the nonprofit Mattress Recycling Council. To find a location, type in your zip code on the Bye Bye Mattress website. Locally, there are plenty of drop-off sites, including Concord, Berkeley, and Oakland. You will pay a small fee of about $10.50.

In 2024, Oregon will launch an industry-led, statewide law that will provide residents with free, convenient, and accessible opportunities to discard mattresses and divert them from waste to recycling. This legislation is administered by Mattress Recycling Council (MRC) and is aligned with other successful recycling programs in California, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. Since 2015, MRC has recycled over 10 million mattresses and diverted more than 380 million pounds of steel, foam, fiber and wood from landfills!

What To Avoid In a New Mattress

Mattress companies like TempurPedic boast that memory foam provides support and conforms to your body, but that foam consists of petroleum-based polyurethane (which is basically plastic), VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds), and flame retardants. VOCS are also found in furniture, paint, and cleaning supplies and commonly include benzene, toluene chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and formaldehyde. You can often detect the chemical smell caused by off-gassing of VOCS, which can cause eye/nose/throat irritations and are especially problematic for those who suffer from asthma or other respiratory issues. Mattresses also contain flame retardants, which can bioaccumulate and cause a host of health problems. To reduce the effects of off-gassing, many people unwrap and leave new mattresses in a ventilated area for several days before using.

According to sleepfoundation.org, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does not have the authority to regulate VOCs in household products, but consumers can look for mattresses certified by third-party organizations, including CertiPUR-USOEKO-TEX, or GREENGUARD Gold, which certify that mattresses contain negligible amounts of potentially harmful substances such as VOCs. It's also worth noting that we should avoid protective mattress pads that contain petroleum-based products or are treated with flame retardants, especially waterproof products. Opt for cotton or wool pads instead.

Healthier Mattress Alternatives

Always look for the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certification, which ensures a fabric is truly organic and sourced from green supply chains and ethical manufacturing processes. Some companies will offset carbon emissions by planting trees for every mattress sold, donate to 1% For The Planet, or strive for a carbon neutral footprint by reducing emissions and paying for carbon they are unable to remove. 

Sustainable mattress choices include wool, cotton, latex or a combination of all three.

Mattresses made from sheep wool are naturally produced and therefore a renewable resource that is biodegradable as well as compostable. Of course, wool is made from animals, so it is not vegan, but most wool is considered ethically sourced because it comes from New Zealand, where a strict Animal Welfare Act was passed in 1999. Wool is also naturally flame resistant and even used to encase mattresses to meet standards without toxic flame-retardant chemicals. Note that people with sensitivity to lanolin should steer clear of wool.

Cotton is breathable, considered hypo-allergenic, and is often found in lightweight mattresses and futons. One pitfall is that cotton is not resistant to dust mites and can get compacted over time. But the larger issue is that cotton requires a lot of water and resources to grow and process. Organic cotton is better for your health than non-organic cotton but not automatically better for the environment if more resources have been used to produce it. This requires comparisons too numerous to list here but include water usage, crop yield, soil health, greenhouse gas emissions, and more. Again, be sure to look for the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certification label when buying a cotton mattress.

Natural Latex mattresses are made from the sap of rubber trees and are, therefore, biodegradable. By contrast, latex, also known as synthetic latex, is a man-made rubber-like product made from petroleum-based chemicals and comes from a much less environmentally-friendly process than the harvesting and manufacturing of all-natural latex. In order to be considered ethically sourced, a regulation of GOTS ensures that organic natural latex comes from trees and soil where no chemical fertilizers have been used for at least four years. Natural latex mattresses are heavy but known for retaining their shape well, so you get the advantage of memory foam but without the chemicals. Natural latex mattresses aren’t cheap and typically cost between $3,000 and $4,000, but they have excellent longevity, with a guarantee of lasting 20 years or more. An affordable option is to buy a natural latex mattress topper, although it won’t shield you from the underlying chemicals in your base conventional mattress.

For top-rated, organic, and eco-friendly mattresses, shop HERE and HERE.

For more sustainable Valentine’s Day ideas, visit "Sexy and Sustainable For Valentine's Day Or Any Day" from 2021.

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  • Thanks for the helpful tips for selecting a healthier new mattress and eco-friendly disposal of an old mattress
    • I appreciate the positive feedback!
  • Wow, I will never take my mattress for granted again!
    • Me neither! Thanks for commenting!
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