Adulting: Choosing a Sustainable Mattress for College

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Starting college can be a super exciting time. It is a time you begin to set your own priorities and, often, it is the first time most people think about the issue 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, carbon footprint of the mattress maker’s supply chain, and chemical flame retardants. And a path to reuse or recycle the mattress at the end of your college life.

Selecting the right mattress can promote good health and help you tread 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

Most mattresses contain petroleum-based chemicals, toxic foams, synthetic fabrics, and chemical fire retardants that impact bedroom air quality. Thus, sustainability is an important consideration when purchasing a mattress. For most college students, affordability is a crucial consideration. If the budget allows, the Avocado Green Mattress is the greenest option available. Their mattresses are made with natural ingredients that protect indoor air quality. Also, the company purchases carbon offsets for its entire manufacturing process, keeping your carbon footprint small.

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 certification 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 even toxic. Because sleep is essential to academic performance, purchasing a single mattress can be a wise investment. 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 second-hand 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.

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 $399 (twin) to $449 (twin XL) with free shipping. The bamboo-derived cover keeps you cool at night and the mattress has a GREENGUARD Gold certification that ensures it is safe for indoor air quality. The mattress carries a 25-year limited warranty and can be returned for up to a year after purchase for a full refund. But it is Brentwood Home’s commitment to the environment and sustainability certifications that set it apart. In addition to purchasing carbon offsets to cover its manufacturing and supply chain, Brentwood Home also donates to planet-friendly charities and uses no chemical retardants.

#2 Tuft & Needle Twin

Tuft & Needle’s twin mattresses are eminently affordable at $350 (twin) to $395 (twin XL) and hold GREENGUARD Gold certifications. The company provides free shipping with a 100-night free trial and a 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 twin XL mattress for $779. 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, a free 120-day trial, and a 25-year limited warranty, My Green Mattress is a solid choice.

#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 $899 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 at $959, the Avocado Mattress holds GREENGUARD Gold and GOTS organic cotton and wool certifications. In our review of mattress manufacturers, 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 $490. 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 that 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 a 90 percent refund 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 November 2019

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.

Materials Selection

Petroleum-based products and chemical retardants off-gas, degrading bedroom air quality. The healthiest beds contain natural, organic, and nontoxic materials. Wool can make an excellent natural flame retardant, avoiding the use of synthetic chemicals.

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.
  • Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) covers the processing, manufacturing, packaging, labeling, trading, and distribution of all textiles made from at least 70 percent certified organic natural fibers.
  • Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS) outlines requirements for latex products. To achieve GOLS certification, a product must contain more than 95 percent certified organic raw material and comply with permissible limits for harmful substances, emission test requirements, and polymer and filler percentages.
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