Adulting: Choosing a Sustainable Mattress for College

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The first day of college can be exciting and disorienting. It is the day you begin to set your adult priorities yourself and, often, it is the first time most people think about the problem of buying a mattress. Take the time to find a sustainable mattress that is made with natural recyclable materials to start your sleeping career right.

Earth911 assessed the top manufacturers of sustainable mattresses-in-a-box, the latest generation made with natural latex and environmentally responsible materials. But within the ratings, there are many trade-offs to pay attention to, including the price, packaging recyclability, the carbon footprint of the mattress maker’s supply chain, and, after you buy, the path to reuse when at the end of college life.

Make your first adult choice to sleep smart and lightly on the planet. In this review of sustainable mattresses for college or your first home, we’ll focus on planning for reuse and the mattress choices that offer the best outcome for the Earth.

The College Mattress Criteria

Sustainability is a trade-off when purchasing a complex product such as a mattress. When starting out in life, the price is a more important consideration than most others. If you can afford one, the Avocado Green Mattress is the greenest option available because the company purchases carbon offsets for its entire manufacturing process, which limits your carbon footprint to the minimum.

We are assuming that most students need only a twin bed for college and have focused only on twin- and twin XL-sized mattresses for this ranking. Earth911 also eliminated all mattresses that cost more than $1,000.

Please review our certifications explanations below the buyer’s guide chart. The source and quality of wool, latex, cotton, and other materials used in a mattress have implications for your health and the recyclability of the mattress at the end of its useful life.

Planning for Reuse

A mattress is an essential item for the college-bound. While a dorm usually comes with a mattress, it may be uncomfortable and toxic. Because sleep is essential to high performance in the classroom, purchasing a single mattress can be an investment in college success. Before heading off for your freshman year, check with the school to see what they provide.

Universities are recognizing that graduation is a major throw-away event in young people’s lives. Harvard, for example, began collecting and reselling mattresses and pillows, keeping 3,400 pillows out of landfills in 2017. If there is a mattress-sharing program at your school, you may be able to receive a handed-down mattress from a graduate. And you can plan to use the same program to dispose of your college mattress.

Shipping your college mattress to a new home can be as expensive as purchasing a new mattress, often results in damage, and produces CO2 that contributes to climate change. Even if you drive the mattress yourself, the move adds to the CO2 burden.

If you cannot donate your mattress, be sure to check the Mattress Recycling Council’s website for guidance about manufacturers’ recycling policies. Earth911’s Recycling Search can connect you to local reuse and donation options, as well as mattress recyclers.

The College Mattress Rankings

#1 Brentwood Home Cypress Bamboo Gel Twin

Brentwood Home, part of Avocado Brands, makes a fine sustainable mattress, the Cypress Bamboo Gel Mattress that is priced right for college students at $310 (twin) to $325 (twin XL). The bamboo-derived cover keeps you cool at night. It carries a 25-year limited warranty and can be returned for up to a year for a full refund. But it is Brentwood Home’s commitment to the environment that sets it apart. In addition to purchasing carbon offsets to cover its manufacturing and supply chain, Brentwood Home also donates to planet-friendly charities.

#2 Tuft & Needle Twin

Tuft & Needle’s twin mattresses are eminently affordable at $350 (twin) to $395 (twin XL) and hold GreenGuard Gold certifications that promise safe levels of post-manufacturing emissions. The company provides free shipping with a 100-night free trial and 10-year warranty. While Tuft & Needle choose not to offset its carbon footprint, it is a good corporate citizen that provides returned mattresses to charity and contributes to local schools and nonprofits in its community.

#3 My Green Mattress Pure Echo Twin & Pure Echo Bunk

My Green Mattress is an online mattress manufacturer with two solid sustainable mattresses for college use. The Pure Echo line includes both a twin mattress for $649 and a bunk bed mattress for $599. The company, which employs Amish craftspeople, holds eco-INSTITUT, GOTS organic cotton, GOLS organic latex, and Oeko-Tex Standard 100 certifications that guarantee natural materials are used throughout the mattresses. With free ground shipping across the U.S. and most of Canada, as well as a 25-year limited warranty, My Green Mattress is a solid choice for the college-bound.

#4 Happsy Mattress Twin

Happsy’s twin mattresses tout all the important sustainability certifications, including for its organic cotton and wool, latex foam, and thread in an $809 package. Though it has one of the shorter warranties at 10 years coverage, it provides buyers a 120-night free trial with a 100 percent refund on returns. Happsy also offers free shipping in the U.S. and partners with 1-800-GOT-JUNK to provide mattress haul-away and recycling services. The company is a generous donor to environmental, women’s, and childhood charities.

#5  Avocado Green Mattress Twin

The most expensive of our top-five options, the Avocado Mattress has made strides since our initial review of mattress manufacturers, adding GOTS organic, Greenguard Gold, and Made Safe certification for the whole mattress. We picked Avocado as the best mattress maker overall because it purchases carbon offsets to achieve carbon neutrality for every step in its production process. Avocado offers a 100-night free trial with full refunds for returned mattresses and provides 1 percent of revenues to environmental charity 1% for the Planet.

#6 Keetsa Plus Twin

Keetsa offers an affordable twin mattress, the Plus, for $495. But it comes with caveats that sustainable shoppers need to factor into their decisions. Unlike the other mattress companies listed here, Keetsa uses a “BioFoam” that contains petroleum. Most memory foams are made with petroleum-based foams the result in off-gassing of chemicals. Consequently, Keetsa does not qualify for Greenguard Gold or organic latex certification. The cover, ticking, and fillers of Keetsa mattresses include organic cotton and hemp that has earned it OEKO-Tex certification. We offer this as #6 in the list to illustrate the type of trade-offs you’ll often hear on mattress sites, which emphasize their organic credentials but don’t dig deep into the details. Likewise, Keetsa provides a trial program, but offers only 90 percent refunds if you return the mattress. 

Comparison Chart

To view our complete printable college mattress comparison chart, click the image below.

Earth911 college mattress comparison chart

Our Rating Criteria

The factors we considered when assessing the environmental-friendliness and sustainability include the following keystones.

Company Supply Chain

The length of the company supply chain describes the distance materials are shipped before and after the mattress is manufactured. In all cases, the sustainable mattress companies in our list assemble their products in the United States, minimizing the post-manufacturing shipping burden. Shorter shipping distances contribute fewer CO2 emissions to the atmosphere. Tuft & Needle uses materials grown or made only in the U.S., offering the shortest supply chain.

Carbon Emissions Offsets

A second supply chain consideration is whether the mattress maker offsets their shipping and manufacturing carbon emissions with carbon credits or carbon sequestration programs, such as reforestation. Only Avocado and Brentwood Homes, which is owned by Avocado Brands, actively offset their company carbon emissions.

Recyclable Mattress Materials

Recyclability of the mattress and materials is a common feature of sustainable mattresses. The latex, cotton, wool, and other materials in all the mattresses we reviewed are biodegradable. However, it is important to send a mattress to a responsible recycler to ensure that it does not end up in a landfill.

Recyclable Packaging Materials

Recyclability of mattress-in-a-box packaging is generally good. Every company we reviewed offers recyclable boxes and plastic wrapping in which the mattress ships. You may receive one, two, or more boxes in your order, but all the packaging should be easy to recycle.

Mattress Recycling Services

Old mattress recycling services are not required in 47 states — only California, Rhode Island, and Connecticut have laws on the books requiring removal and recycling of an old mattress. Those states also charge a fee at purchase that ensures free recycling for mattresses. Happsy collaborates with 1-800-GOT-JUNK to provide removal services for a fee, while the rest of the companies do not offer mattress removal.

Charity and Giving

Charity and giving programs are another important feature of a responsible company. Returned mattresses cannot be resold, so every company has a donation program to dispose of returned mattresses responsibly. Shoppers also want to know that their spending is supporting ethical business practices, which often involve extensive charitable giving. With active giving ranging from 1% for the Planet to extensive networks of charitable programs supported by most of the mattress makers in our comparison, you can find a sustainable mattress that aligns with your values.

Company Philosophy

Company philosophies are important to understanding what you are buying. We’ll include these in the discussion of individual companies in the rankings.

Certifications: Safety First

Certifications are essential guidelines for mattress buyers. Consumer Reports provides a comprehensive summary of mattress materials certifications to look for when shopping. For a second opinion, read Triple Pundit’s assessment of the certifications for mattresses, many of which are forms of greenwashing.

Seek out products that have the following certifications:

  • OEKO-TEX Standard 100 certification addresses the safety and sustainability of textiles, such as cotton and wool, used in mattresses. The Standard 100 certification provides customers assurance that harmful chemicals and environmentally harmful substances are not produced by the manufacturing process or included in the product.
  • eco-INSTITUT certification involves similar testing, measuring the emissions from the mattress and the environmental responsibility of the sourcing of materials. In particular, eco-INSTITUT examines the sources of latex, which is harvested from rubber trees, used in mattresses.
  • GREENGUARD Gold certification, from United Laboratories, validates that a mattress does not exceed the emission standards for VOCs that contribute to indoor pollution.
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