It’s no secret that a quality mattress can have a big impact on your sleep and therefore on your day-to-day mood. Mattress shopping can be overwhelming, though: Do you order online? Splurge on something with tech built in? How much does quality matter? When should you get a new one, and where should the old one go?
What most of us don’t know is what our mattresses are made of and how that could impact our health — and the health of the planet — long-term. Spoiler: It’s worse than you probably think.
“Mattresses are the No. 2 item in landfills by volume, right after carpet,” said Jason Schaefer, who co-owns Holy Lamb Organics with his wife, Mindy. The natural bedding company is dedicated to zero-waste manufacturing and local production in the face of what Jason called a race to the bottom in the industry: mattresses are cheap, poorly made, and hauled to a landfill after only a few years.
Based in Olympia, Holy Lamb Organics produces all of its bedding in Oakville, Washington, where about 25 employees stitch and assemble organic and eco-friendly materials. Mattress toppers, comforters, pillows, and more are made using organic wool and cotton; the mattresses themselves are made by Seattle company Soaring Hearts Natural Beds and are warrantied for 20 years.
The small business, which was founded in 2000 and purchased in 2017 by the Schaefers, has the certification to prove its legitimacy as an organic company. A few months after buying the company, the Schaefers jumped through the necessary hoops to earn the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certification, which strictly regulates businesses on the quality and type of materials used. Holy Lamb Organics sells a line that meets highly specific standards created by GOTS for certified organic wool — which they source from New Zealand — and a line using local wool from the Pacific Northwest — which is not certified organic merely because it comes from smaller farms without the credential.
In both cases, however, the materials are 100 percent natural, and Holy Lamb Organics can trace its supply chain all the way to the sheep that wool was sheared from and the cotton husk the cotton came from.
But why focus on making mattresses and bedding with strictly natural materials in the first place? The products produced by companies like Holy Lamb Organics not only outlast their polyester counterparts by years and sometimes decades; they also break down in an eco-friendly way.
“Our products (are) all biodegradable,” said Jason. “You can take your topper out to your compost bin and it will break down.”
But planet health isn’t the only thing at stake here. As human beings, we spend a third of our lives in close contact with our bedding as we sleep. Most of us, however, have no idea what that bedding is made of, much less how it might impact our health.
For example: non-organic mattresses are coated in chemical flame retardants to prevent beds from catching fire.
“The cheapest way to make something resistant to fire is to use a rayon barrier, formaldehyde, or a powder,” said Jason. The powder, Mindy said, can be vacuumed — but also breathed — out of the mattress. In California, a product with chemicals like formaldehyde must be labeled to announce that it is made with cancer-causing agents.
“I’m not going to tell you that you’re going to get cancer from your mattress,” said Mindy, “but California will tell you that. And breathing in those chemicals all night while you sleep can’t help.”
With a natural wool mattress, a chemical flame retardant isn’t necessary: Wool itself is resistant to flames because it is coated in lanolin oil, which is also more effective against fire than a chemical treatment. Though he doesn’t recommend customers try it at home, Jason said that their products don’t catch fire even when a blow torch is taken to them.
Beyond eliminating chemicals from the sleep equation, Holy Lamb Organics also reduces its impact on the planet with a zero-waste policy, meaning that anything that comes in is either recycled or reused in a different function. Jason and Mindy also hope to build on a program started by Soaring Hearts in which a customer’s old mattress is broken down and recycled rather than thrown into a landfill.
“As we get bigger and start doing deliveries, we want to be able to haul away people’s old beds to ensure that they aren’t just thrown away,” said Jason.
A barrier for many in buying organic, natural bedding is the price tag, which is higher than what people find at a Mattress Firm. However, Mindy maintained that their costs are fairly competitive with a mid-range traditional mattress. A queen mattress is $2,400, and a mattress topper of the same size ranges from $595 to $645. While the price can present an obstacle, the amount of time that these products last — coupled with the elimination of health problems presented by non-organic counterparts — may make them a worthwhile investment.
“By the time you’re 60, you’ve spent 20 years sleeping,” said Jason. “Think about what you have spent on things you’ve kept for 20 years. Why wouldn’t you put the same sort of cash toward a bed that will last that long? I think that’s an important perspective shift: thinking about your mattress in the long term, rather than something cheap and easily disposable. It’s better for you and for the planet.”