This month, I'm making a big purchase. I've read the Consumer Reports guides and tips; I've spoken with friends who have previously made such a purchase; I've tested and tried a number of different options; and I'm hemming and hawing about making the final sale. I'm not buying a house, or a car, or a cell phone. I'm buying a mattress.
After all, the average human spends at least one-third of her life sleeping, presumably on a mattress. Many mattresses are made with flame-retardant chemicals and petroleum-based, pesticide-filled materials. A normal night's tossing and turning can release harmful dust, toxins, and allergens into the bedroom air. If I spend so much time in bed, I should try to green-ify the experience.
I would have to find a way to do it on the cheap, however. Top-of-the-line eco-friendly mattresses, like Dormeuse by Essentia, which is 100-percent biodegradable and made from natural tree-rubber latex and organic essential oils and plant extracts, the Shepherd's Dream mattress, made with pure wool, or the Savvy Rest Organic Serenity mattress, comprised of natural latex and American-sourced organic wool and cotton, all run upwards of $1000. Plus I'd probably have to order one online, eliminating the opportunity to actually lie down and test one out.
No, I'd have to go with a conventional manufacturer from a local establishment (there are a few in South Portland). Many of these big names (Sealy, Simmons, and Serta) are hopping on the green bandwagon using recycled steel coils and organic cotton materials. So there are ways to go green(er) without emptying your wallet — as long as you (and I) acknowledge that these green features are as much a marketing campaign as an environmental boon.
The best bet, if you're like me and can't afford to spend thousands on a pure-wool mattress, or like most everyone else I know and simply aren't in the market for a new mattress, is to modify your sleeping accessories — sheets, mattress covers, pillows — in environmentally friendly ways. Organic cotton sheets, pure-wool mattress covers (naturally anti-microbial and more breathable than typical versions), and buckwheat-hull pillows are all available through online and storefront retailers, for much less money than a whole new bed. Plants and air-purifiers, which I've written about in this column before, also help scrub your indoor air.
Still, making sleep habits eco-friendlier is one of those spending-to-save situations that requires buying new stuff in order to feel like you're saving your part of the world. I hate that. Like anything else — and perhaps more so, given their bulk — mattresses require energy to build, transport, and dispose of. It's worth weighing the pros and cons of keeping what you have and not creating more waste.
If you do revamp your sleep space and need to get rid of an older mattress, you can do so safely and for free with an E-card from Portland's Department of Public Services at the Riverside Recycling Facility (or check your town's public-works Web site).
Not sleeping in a bed on these beautiful summer nights? Check out recycled sleeping bags (the materials are recycled, not the actual bags — that could be gross) from big outdoor-living companies such as Big Agnes or Marmot. Sleeping under the stars might be the best way to sleep green, and to remind yourself why you're doing so.
Deirdre Fulton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.