National Archives at College Park [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Increasingly, North American tastes are leaning towards mattresses made primarily out of foam – even those with springs in the core will have foam on either side. Additionally, pillowtop mattresses aren’t flippable. Because of these developments, mattress lives have shortened significantly. These new types of mattresses last an average of 7-8 years.
According to Kayla Johnson, who works at Tuck.com,
The lifespan of modern mattresses is related to their current material. Polyfoam and memory foam do degrade faster than latex. Latex mattresses will still last 20 to 30 years and flippable mattresses (which are a lot rarer now) should last even longer. People are also pickier about their sleep surfaces than they used to be–there are a lot more options on the market and Americans tend to prefer really soft mattresses, which are usually made of memory foam or polyfoam. Other markets, like Europe and East Asia, tend to go for firmer mattresses.
If mattresses that used to last 25 years now need to be replaced every 7-8, you’re now sleeping on two extra mattresses for every one you used to. That produces a heck of a lot more waste than before and uses significantly more resources.
What happens to old mattresses?
Some municipalities have banned mattresses from landfill. In those cases, mattresses must be recycled. You can check your municipality’s waste management website to see what you need to do with your old mattress.
There are mattress recycling facilities scattered across North America – and one company, Recyc-Matelas has its headquarters in Montreal with branches in Toronto, Vancouver, Connecticut and France.
You can also check out earth911.com a great website that helps you find recycling options for just about anything – including mattresses.
Tuck.com offers several more in-depth suggestions as to how to recycle your old mattress, there are several ideas that are quite creative (I love the suggestions for old mattress springs found on Pinterest!).
How to reduce mattresses going to landfill
If at all possible, invest in a mattress that will last longer than 7-8 years. Many companies advertise on the mattress lifespan. While it might be more expensive up front, it will save you money and time down the road as it won’t need to be replaced as often. It will also conserve resources and reduce waste.
I was contacted by Essentia a few weeks ago regarding their mattresses. I had never heard of them before — probably because they don’t do a lot of traditional advertising. It turns out they are based in Laval, just outside Montreal. It manufactures and distributes its mattresses straight from its Laval location, importing the raw ingredients.
Essentia Mattresses are an alternative to synthetic memory foam mattresses. Apparently, one of the complaints about memory foam mattresses is that they “sleep hot.” In other words, because they are synthetic, they don’t breathe and therefore, a lot of people heat up during the night (and not in a good way!). Because Essentia mattresses are made from plant-based ingredients, they breathe, allowing for a cooler, more comfortable sleep.
Another complaint with memory foam mattresses is that the “cast” is difficult to get in and out of. The cast is the shape that’s formed once you sink into the bed and it moulds to your body. Once that shape is there, it can be difficult to move out of it.
Essentia mattresses are made from hevea milk, the sap from the rubber tree. On their website, being the Canadian company they are, they liken collecting rubber tree sap to tapping a maple tree for sap. The sap is boiled down to produce the hevea milk, which is then shipped to Canada. Essentia adds a few other ingredients such as jasmine essence, cone flower oil and grapefruit seed extract, pours it on a mould, steams and bakes it in an oven to produce the mattress. The mattress is covered with a 100% organic cotton cover.
There are two kinds of latex manufacturing: Dunlop, which was developed in 1929, and produces a firmer latex, and Talalay, a newer method that produces a “light and fluffy” latex. Essentia uses the Dunlop latex method for production of their memory foam.
Products: Essentia makes latex mattresses in various sizes, as well as pillows which will mould to your neck and head. Mattress products vary from thinner to thicker. While all offer the same support, the difference will be in how long the mattresses last. Thicker mattresses last longer than thinner ones. For their complete product line, see their online catalogue.
Comfort: because the mattress is produced entirely from plant-based ingredients it breathes and allows for air circulation. Petroleum-based memory foam mattresses don’t allow for air flow, so heat generated while sleeping builds up around you. In addition, because the latex foam isn’t temperature sensitive, there isn’t the same cast problem that there is with synthetic memory foam.
Fire retardants: there has been a lot of attention given to the highly toxic chemicals used for fire retardants, particularly when it comes to mattresses. In Canada, fire retardants in mattresses are not mandatory, however, they are in the US. Essentia does not use fire retardants for its mattresses shipped within Canada, and for those shipped to the US, they use Kevlar as a fire retardant.
VOCs: Again, thanks to fire retardants, synthetic materials and petroleum used in other memory foam mattresses, mattresses generally contain a lot of volatile organic compounds. These are chemicals which leach into the air and you can breathe in. They have been linked to cancer, asthma, headaches, etc.. Essentia mattresses are made without the use of VOCs. The local health and safety board officials tested the workers’ environment and determined that their workers don’t need to wear protective gear or masks to work with the materials. The mattresses have also received the GreenGuard certification, a certification developed in California to limit the emission of harmful chemicals into the air.
Durability and End of Life: The mattresses have a 20 year warranty, longer than most coil mattresses, and on top of that, because the mattresses are derived from plant-based ingredients, they are biodegradable at end of life, so no landfill!
Production Process: The rubber tree sap is sourced from a plantations in Indonesia that have acceptable working conditions and no practice of using child labour. The company uses LEAN production methods to keep waste low. My contact at Essentia, Jason Wright, told me that waste is almost negligible except for cotton scraps from making the mattress covers. They are looking for ways to repurpose those as well.
Employee engagement: Essentia has recently formalized a program they developed a few years ago that encourages employees, particularly within their retail stores, to get involved with non-profit organizations within their communities. They are participated in a variety of events such as providing venues for artists, and hosting vegan cooking competitions. The point is to develop community connections.
For the most part we rely on third party organizations to determine what is and isn't a "green building material." The only time we might not is when products are locally produced or no third party green designation is available for the product.