Sleep, sleep is by far one of the most important aspects of a person’s day in order to stay sane within their own minds, while also keeping their mental and physical health intact. Let’s take a moment to think about how our sleep has been, depending on if we slept on a mattress or not. There have been so many times that I have not been able to sleep and had no choice but to stay awake until I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer. Mattresses most definitely have evolved over the years; but there's no better sleep I have experienced with that being on a couch, on a reclining chair, on a carpeted floor, or even on the earth while being inside a tent; that has compared to the sleep I have gotten while sleeping on a mattress.
Having a good mattress is very important because it helps to aid and improve the overall health of your body. A good mattress supports your spinal alignment which will prevent long term chronic pain, aid in snoring since snoring happens from a blockage in your airway while you are sleeping, and reduce stress since you are going to be able to get a good night's rest with minimal interruptions pertaining to your comfort. It is very sad to say, but being able to sleep on a mattress every night is a privilege and I think a lot of people take that for granted, including me. Researching mattresses is not a common thing unless you plan on purchasing a brand new mattress and you want to make sure you are making the right decision, but mattresses are used and disposed of so frequently that we could only imagine where they end up. It would be interesting to find out the actual history behind the mattress and see if it is either harmful or helpful to the environment.
According to Sleep on Latex, “The earliest known form of a mattress dates back to approximately 77,000 years ago. It was discovered by archaeologists in a rock shelter located in Sibudu, South Africa. It was comprised of various types of grass and leaves, some of which were natural insect repellent to combat nuisances like mosquitos and other insects” (Latex). These beds were made to fit the entire family and would be around “ 12-inches thick and a whopping 22 square feet”(Ullman). The importance of these beds being so big were to make sure the families would be able to not only stay safe but to also keep each other warm. The next form of a mattress or bed was discovered in 8,000 BC in Hinds Cave in Texas. This is where the early hunter gatherers who were always on the go and never really settled in a specific place for a long period of time would gather leaves and feathers in an oval like shape, which archaeologists hypothesized they slept in fetal positions because the mounds were not big enough for a human to stretch out on.
From 3,000 B.C to 476 A.D, both Ancient Egypt and Ancient Rome slept on raised beds that were created from metal and also plain wood. These beds were raised in order for the temperatures in that area could regulate under and around the people on the beds, also to remove them from possibilities of rodents and insects making their ways to harm them during the night. Throughout the 5th to 15th century in Europe, having a bed and mattress was solely made for the wealthy, and was also a way for them to express their wealth to the village folk. These mattresses were stuffed deep with feathers and down, their sheets were made of pure linen. Poverty during the medieval times would account for you to sleep on a bag that was stuffed with hay either on the floor or on a raised platform. During the Renaissance period is when they began to tie ropes together on the platform of the bed in order to hold the mattress up which was stuffed very generously with down and feathers as well. In the 18th century, bed frames transitioned from being made out of wood, to now being made out of metal. Mattresses were now being made stuffed with cotton instead of hay or down, and they became a lot more mainstream and more easily accessible. Fast forward to the 21st century, mattresses are almost found in every single house; being made of silicon, latex, cotton, memory foam, and even air.
Lens Framework 1: Risks and Hazards
When we sleep, we are expected to feel the most safe regarding our health and well being. Come to find out, some mattresses pose major health risks to us humans while we are sleeping. Organic latex mattresses don’t pose any risks, but some mattresses like “memory foam mattresses or mattresses made of polyurethane or other synthetics”(Liz) pose the biggest health risk with mattresses known as Chemical-Off Gassing. “Flame retardants, formaldehyde, and benzene have been found in some mattresses and can be linked to health issues such as cancer, infertility, and developmental brain disorders”(Liz). These are very big health concerns that we all should be made aware of, especially given the fact that we sleep for hours on end each night and we also spend a third of our lives sleeping which means our exposure to these harsh chemicals are very frequent.
Mattresses don’t only pose risks to us humans, but also account for a large amount of pollution to our environment. “Around 20 million mattresses are thrown into landfills every year and just 1 mattress can take up 40 cubic feet of space”(Tarantino), mattress disposal accounts for a lot of heavy machinery needed to break them down and be processed in the landfill. Along with the toxins these mattresses are made of, those toxins can seep into the soil and make their way into the water which will ultimately pollute the water to a point of toxicity.
Lens Framework #2: Environmental Ethics
Now that we are living in the 21st century where technology is booming and consumers are increasing dramatically, the production of mattresses has changed as well. Although it is a good thing that these producers are taking into account the harmful effects of mattresses and beginning to make environmentally friendly mattresses, the old mattresses are being disposed of at an alarming rate which is negatively affecting the environment. “Mattresses are a global environmental nightmare. The U.S throws away 18.2 million mattresses a year, but there are only 56 facilities available to recycle them”(Kale). Some producers are allowing 30 to 365 day return policies, which is allowing people to return mattresses a lot more frequently, causing the landfills to be over capacity regarding the disposal of these used mattresses. Is it really necessary for us to constantly return mattresses and buy mattresses so frequently when we know where they are going to end up? Are we even considering the effects of these mattresses and how they are evidently becoming harmful to the environment and raising the carbon footprint at extremely high rates due to the so many large pieces of machinery needed to regulate and consolidate these mattresses to dispose of them?
When purchasing a mattress, there are some things that we can search for in order to play our part in the sustainability of our planet and contribute to the eco-friendly lifestyle. From an article on Ecocult, we are told that producers use the word Eco-foam to promote their “sustainable” mattresses, but they are made of memory foam and could still contain toxic materials. So they have provided us with some questions we need to ask in order to make sure we are purchasing an actual environmentally friendly mattress. “ What are the core components made of?, Where do they come from?, Are you using glue to bind the layers together?, Are you using fire retardant? What kind?, What certifications do you have, and Can you send me a full copy of the legal tag?”(Wicker). These questions will point us in the right direction to where we can purchase an environmental friendly mattress and reduce our impact on the environment.
With all things considered, I have learned a lot about the overall effects of mattresses that I had no idea about. As common as mattresses are and how advanced technology is, I am surprised that pillow-top and memory foam mattresses are still being made and sold. We should most definitely be able to come up with a sustainable material that can be used all over the map and get rid of all these products that are full of harsh chemicals that can affect us humans and this earth as well. If we can make a car drive itself, how can we not be able to provide sustainable material for producers to use and allow products to be able to make their way back into the earth and only provide nourishment to the earth and good risk free nights of sleep.
Ullman, Michelle. “Beds Through the Ages: From a Pile of Leaves to the Modern Mattress.” The Spruce, www.thespruce.com/the-history-of-the-bed-4062296.
Prime, Michael. “The Importance of a Good Mattress for Your Health.” Birlea Furniture, Birlea Furniture, 18 Sept. 2018, https://birlea.com/the-importance-of-a-good-mattress-for-your-health/
Liz. “Is Your Mattress Toxic? Symptoms & Solutions.” Savvy Rest, https://savvyrest.com/blog/your-mattress-toxic-symptoms-solutions#:~:text=Flame%20retardants%2C%20formaldehyde%2C%20and%20benzene,toxins%20for%20hours%20every%20night.
Tarantino, Angie. “The Environmental Impact of Mattresses |.” The Environmental Blog, www.theenvironmentalblog.org/2019/11/environmental-impact-mattresses/
Kale, Sirin. “The Mattress Landfill Crisis: How the Race to Bring Us Better Beds Led to a Recycling Nightmare.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 12 Feb. 2020, www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/feb/12/mattress-landfill-crisis-recycling-nightmare.
Wicker, Alden. “11 Non-Toxic and Sustainable Mattresses for 2020.” Ecocult, 12 Oct. 2020, https://ecocult.com/find-nontoxic-sustainable-mattresses