Do You Know The Environmental Cost Of Your Mattress?

Posted on January 5, 2011 by Courtney

Please welcome today’s guest poster, Thomas Maurer.

More and more people are starting to think ethically about their food. Where it comes from, how many miles it has traveled, what kind of conditions it grew in. If it is an animal product, people want to know that the animals were treated well.

But do you think ethically about your furniture? And especially your mattress?

Most mattresses are made from cotton and/or wool. It may not be at the forefront of our minds, but we do some serious environmental damage to have access to these materials. 

Chemical Cotton

In 2000 there were 14.4 million acres of cotton being grown in the United States. 84 million pounds of pesticides and 2 billion pounds of fertilizers were used on those fields.

Of those pesticides used, 7 of them were deemed by the EPA to be possible, likely or known human carcinogens.

The cotton crop on its own uses 25% of the world’s insecticides and 10% of the world’s herbicides.

Its terrible that we make fabric from this toxic product. But that isn’t the worst of it. Only 35% of the cotton harvest goes into making fabric. The rest is either made into cottonseed oil to be used in food processing or fed to livestock, further contaminating our food.

The chemical run off from cotton farms enters nearby waterways, destroying ecosystems and polluting as it goes.

The Problem With Wool

Wool has issues both in the care of the sheep and the processing of the material. First of all, if you are a vegan, the very idea of using an animal product is abhorrent.

Even if you aren’t vegan, the treatment of sheep doesn’t look pretty. Extra feed brought in is often laced with chemicals. Synthetic pesticides are used both on the pasture and on the sheep. Parasites are controlled by having the sheep treated with chemicals.

The carrying capacity of the land is easily exceeded. When wool prices go down, farmers often put increased stock on their land to maintain their profits. This works in the short term but in the long run it just puts too much strain on the land.

Even after the sheep have been shorn, the chemicals continue. Wool is cleaned during a process called “carbonization.” This puts more chemicals into the product and also strips away the natural oils, which are antibacterial and provide softness.

Be Aware Of The Situation

People have come to realize in the last decade or so that just because we can do things doesn’t mean we should. Just because we can pump out tomatoes the size of pumpkins doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. Just because we can grow more cotton if we pump in pounds and pounds of chemicals doesn’t mean we want to.

The environmental issues around the industrialized food system are becoming more and more well known. And as a result, people are looking for alternatives; they are looking to organics.

The environmental issues around mattresses fly beneath the radar. There are organic options out there, mattresses made from organic wool, organic cotton and natural latex. But most people aren’t looking for a solution because they don’t yet know there is a problem.

I want to shine some more light on the problem. I want people to become aware of the situation. Then hopefully a few more will come looking for the solution.

Thomas Maurer is passionate about creating organic homes, the way they have been for most of human history. He shares his thoughts at his information site about organic mattresses. He has also been known to grow celery that is taller than he is.

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Tip of the Day

If It Doesn’t Smell, Don’t Wash It


According to Real Simple, if every American made an effort to launder less — cutting out just one load of laundry a week per household — we’d save enough water to fill seven million swimming pools each year.

So if it looks clean, and it smells clean, call it clean and wear it again. Consider hanging worn clothes out on your clothesline to freshen them up between wearings.

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