Mattress in a box - how eco is it?

Foam mattress-in-a-box ads are everywhere. But mattresses at the end of their lives invariably get dumped in landfill, so what are manufacturers of this new breed doing to lessen their products' environmental impact?

Emma mattresses

Emma, Bruno, Casper, Simba...they all sound super-friendly and they're super comfortable too by all accounts. But these compressed mattresses that come in a box are made to be affordable so they contain memory foam, which is a petro-chemical derived material that's not biodegradable. We talk to the makers of the Emma mattress, pictured above, about mattresses and the environment.

'There is no perfect solution' says Max Laarman of Emma, the German mattress-in-a-box brand, when asked to assess the eco friendliness of this new genre of mattresses.

They have a lot going for them - they're compressed so they take up less space in lorries, minimising delivery costs. There's minimal packaging around them. Emma Mattress offers a 100-night trial and should a mattress be returned (fewer than 10 per cent are), it will either be shredded and recycled as backing for carpets, or it will be collected by the skin charity Debra and sold in its shops to raise funds. (Debra is the charity that supports people who suffer from Epidermyolysis bullosa, a painful condition that causes skin to blister.)

Emma mattresses are vegan - they contain no animal products - and crucially they have been designed to last a long time. Forget the bed industry's entreaties to people to change their mattresses every eight years, Laarman says an Emma should give you 15 years of good sleep. And by then, he's confident mattresses will be much more widely recycled and won't be deposited in landfill. Oh and sticking with the eco plus points, Emma mattresses are made in the UK for British consumers - in Derby to be accurate, while those sold in other EU countries are made in Germany and Switzerland. 

But to cut to the chase, these mattresses, as is the case with many mid-market mattresses, contain metal springs, which are recyclable, and foam which is petro-chemical derived and is not bio-degradable. And it's the foam in mattresses that make them such an environmental problem because they sit in landfill and don't decompose, rather they add to the formation of harmful landfill gases.

They are affordable but there's no getting away from the fact that these mattresses are made from PU foam and fossil-fuel derived foam is not eco-friendly


Foams must become more eco

Laarman says mattress makers are in the hands of the chemical industry on this, because it's the chemical companies that need to develop a new generation of bio foams that are degradable or which can dissolve. And that research & development work is underway and for that reason he's confident mattresses will become part of C2C - cradle to cradle - manufacturing.

'I think within the next 5-10 years we will have very different foams to work with,' he asserts. That's because governments are now demanding the chemical industry supplies products that are environmentally friendly and meet C2C standards - when it comes to cutting carbon emissions, it's legislation not light touch regulation that drives change.

Now you might be thinking about brands of mattresses such as Vi-Spring, Hastens, Savoir Beds, Cottonsafe Natural Mattress and Abaca Organic which don't use PU foams and whose mattresses can be taken apart and the fillings of wool, cashmere, cotton and horsehair popped in the ground to biodegrade. And you might think well, if they can do it, why can't Emma and Simba and Bruno?

Laarman says they could, but they'd be making a premium product which would cost thousands and not hundreds of pounds. 'You can't make premium mattresses cheaply. The natural materials they use are very expensive. 

'But we wanted to make a mattress that's mid-priced, so it's accessible to lots of people, and that's very high quality so it will give you years of good sleep. For that reason we have to use foam and I would add that we do use the very best quality memory foam.' 

Emma received the Which? ‘Best Buy 2017’ endorsement for its mattress. Which? is UK's largest consumer body.