By Emily Doe, Brand Warrior, Beyond Bamboo
Whether your bedroom is purely functional (just for sleeping) or you consider it to be your sanctuary or a place to rest and recharge – there’s no doubt it’s a room we spend a lot of time in.
“It’s important to check the materials used in all the products in your home – but particularly your bedroom! The main reason is because that’s where we spend the most time. Humans spend eight hours per night sleeping on average, which is over 230,000 hours in a lifetime.” Says James Higgins, Founder of Ethical Bedding.
One thing that pretty much all bedrooms have in common is a bed, bed linen, and soft furnishings to create a comfortable area for sleeping. So how can we be more sustainable when it comes to products such as mattresses, bedframes and bedding?
When updating your bedroom furniture, for example, bed frames, wardrobes and drawers, think first about upcycling them and giving them a fresh lease of life rather than buying new. Or look for new-to-you items in charity shops, antique markets and car boot sales. If this doesn’t work, or you’ve set your heart on a new item, then either arrange to donate your old item to a charity shop that takes furniture (not all are able to, so do ask first) or talk to the company you are buying from and check they can collect your old item and donate or recycle it. This is one way you can support the circular economy and reduce waste if you can’t either up-cycle yourself or find up-cycled pieces to buy.
“We use our furniture on a daily basis; it forms an integral part of our homes. Modern living has caused a shift towards disposable living and utilising flat packed furniture that, in general, does not support a sustainable planet. This furniture is often made from timber which is not replaced and is held together using glue full of chemicals. The furniture is cheap, cheaply made, damaging to the environment and won’t last more than a few years. Instead look for companies that produce Sustainable Furniture by procuring wood sourced from forestry protected by commissions – cabinet-level, government ministries responsible for managing and conserving their nations’ forests. They patrol the forests, prevent illegal logging and ensure a new tree is planted for each one that is felled. The trees that are logged are done so in a sustainable way, using techniques like thinning that help to promote new tree growth.” Explains Margaret Larson, Founder of Sustainable-Furniture (UK) Ltd.
There are lots of companies making sustainable and organic mattresses in the UK. And that’s a great place to start, but it doesn’t solve the issue of what to do with a mattress at the end of its life. Can they be reused or recycled? According to The Furniture Recycling Group, Wembley Stadium could be filled five times with the 7.5m mattresses that are discarded in the UK every year. Buying a new mattress will likely set you back hundreds of pounds, and so most people would prefer not to have to pay out even more money to dispose of their old one.
The Sleep Council recommends replacing your mattress as often as every seven years, because after that time it will have been subjected to more than 20,000 hours of use. That’s the equivalent of 2,555 nights – which is a lot when you consider that adults lose an average of half a pint of fluid each night and shed a pound of dead skin cells each year. But Which? durability tests revealed that the best mattresses can last up to a decade without softening, sagging, or becoming less supportive. So, if you buy a good mattress and clean it regularly, it could last you 10 years. Only replacing your mattress when it really needs it, is a good first step to reducing waste. But at some point, it will need replacing, so how do you dispose of it?
A report by Which? looking at mattress disposal, suggests that finding a way to dispose of a mattress free of charge is not easy, especially if you want to get rid of it in a responsible way. Far too many end up in landfill sites when most could have been recycled or reused. It’s therefore important to gather advice on how long a mattress should last, how to look after your mattress, and how to get rid of it responsibly once it’s past its best. (You can read the full article from Which? here: https://www.which.co.uk/reviews/mattresses/article/how-to-dispose-of-a-mattress-avTxg0t48NMG)
There are a variety of different options when it comes to disposal, but some of them are expensive, environmentally damaging, and even illegal. So be sure you do your research and choose one that is both ethical and environmentally conscious.
The best way to dispose of a mattress is to ask the company you are buying your new mattress from if they will recycle your old one. Ask them specifically about recycling and what happens to your mattress once they collect it. If you’re satisfied with their answers, then go ahead. If not, then the next best option is to take it to your local council recycling centre. Alternatively, look for mattress recycling companies and pay to have your mattress picked up and recycled. Again, always ask questions about what happens to the mattress and only book with a company you feel you can trust.
The good news is that at least some parts of your mattress will be recyclable, and it’s possible that all of it will be. While mattress recycling is relatively labour-intensive, more and more facilities capable of doing so are springing up around the UK. These facilities will break down your mattress into its recyclable components. Springs can then be melted down and remade into new metal products. Synthetic layers, such as foam, can be used to make carpet underlay, or are sent to a plant where the waste is converted into energy.
Bedding and soft furnishings
One of the easiest sustainable swaps in your bedroom will be your bedding and soft furnishings. Although the same rules apply as before; only buy when you really need to, these items do tend to be replaced more often. The good news is, they are easy to re-use (for example as dust sheets, thrown over the sofa to prevent dog hairs or cut into rags for cleaning), or recycle (most charity shops will take them, and they are then sold as rags which earns the charity money and means the fabric is re-used). Alternatively, many animal rescue centres will take old bedding to give their residents something soft to sleep on.
However, they aren’t generally items we buy second-hand, so, when buying new look for bedding made from sustainable materials, such as organic hemp, linen, cotton, bamboo (Modal), eucalyptus (Lyocell/Tencel). The benefits are multiple, including: antibacterial properties; chemical-free; moisture wicking; comfort; and long-lasting durability.
Also consider the materials your duvet and pillows are made from. Is it cruelty free? For example, avoid feathers and down – an animal has had to suffer (quite horrifically) to make that pillow or duvet. Duvets are often made from unsustainable (plastic-based) materials and therefore it may be worth thinking about moving away from duvets altogether and going back to traditional blankets and throws for your bedding. However, if you do choose this route, you’ll still need to check that the throws, rugs and blankets do not contain plastic and are cruelty free.
It’s important to note that Polyester Fibre fill, is hazardous to health and the environment, yet gets promoted as vegan, as do microbeads: hence the importance of finding bedding companies that create bedding from natural, sustainable fibres where possible.
For example, there are pillows and mattresses made of organic latex. The Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS) establishes a clear path and procedure on the route from farmer level to the certified organic latex product manufacturer. Among other factors, manufacturers that are given approval to produce organic products under the GOLS logo have to follow mandatory social and environmental regulations. GOLS enables manufactures, exporters and sellers to showcase a unique product of organic origin, socially justifiable, environmentally friendly and traceable throughout its value chain. Certified organic woollen duvets, pillows and mattresses are also available for purchase within the UK and have a whole range of qualities that can help you sleep better.
In summary, if you want to help promote your own health and protect the environment at the same time, it’s important to think about what materials your bedding, furniture and other soft furnishing are made from and what happens to the items you are replacing. It is actually very easy to make these sustainable swaps – it just takes a few minutes to think about the options, rather than ‘do the usual’.
Emily Doe is Brand Warrior at Beyond Bamboo, a global community of sustainable products, services and suppliers working as a collective to restore and rejuvenate the planet. With a consumer marketplace, a B2B supplier portal, a knowledge hub and a team of passionate people dedicated to triple bottom line reporting, Beyond Bamboo aims to help us all do well by doing good.