Are Synthetic Latex Mattresses Eco-Friendly & Sustainable? A Life-Cycle Analysis

Are Synthetic Latex Mattresses Eco-Friendly & Sustainable? A Life-Cycle Analysis

By
Quynh Nguyen

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Latex mattresses have been touted as a sustainable sleep option. However, latex comes in both natural and synthetic forms, and greenwashing makes it harder for you and other consumers to figure out whether the two forms are equally sustainable. So, we had to ask: How sustainable are synthetic latex mattresses?

Synthetic latex mattresses made from 100% fossil-derived materials are unsustainable. Manufacturing synthetic latex foam from fossil-based polymers uses a lot of energy, exacerbates the climate crisis, and causes environmental pollution. Synthetic latex foam is also not biodegradable. 

In this article, we’ll walk you through the life-cycle of synthetic latex mattresses. Then, we will evaluate their sustainability, potential, and shortfalls. And in the end, we’ll show you tips for buying sustainable mattresses made with synthetic latex.

Here’s How We Assessed the Sustainability of Synthetic Latex Mattresses

Latex mattresses have been praised as an eco-friendly sleep option. However, latex can be either natural or synthetic, and regarding sustainability, synthetic latex is very different from natural latex.

Latex is an emulsion of polymer microparticles. While it can be found in nature as a milky liquid, latex can also be synthesized from various fossil-based monomers in laboratories. The most common synthetic latex is SBR (styrene-butadiene rubber), made from styrene and butadiene.

The main factor determining the sustainability of synthetic latex mattresses is, thus, the use of fossil fuels. 

“Sustainable: The ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level | Avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance”

Oxford Dictionary

To understand the sustainability of synthetic latex mattresses, we must assess their life-cycle and each stage’s sustainability. This life-cycle assessment (LCA) is a method to evaluate the environmental impacts of products and materials. Over the years, companies have strategically used LCAs to research and create more sustainable products. So, let’s have a look at the LCA of synthetic latex mattresses!

The life-cycle stages of synthetic latex mattressesEach stage’s sustainability
Sourcing of synthetic latex mattressesSourcing fossil-derived materials for synthetic latex is highly unsustainable due to the nonrenewable nature of fossil fuels. The extraction and refining of these fuels not only creates a significant energy demand but also contributes to the climate crisis and environmental pollution.
Manufacturing of synthetic latex mattressesManufacturing synthetic latex mattresses is generally unsustainable because of the intensive use of energy and chemicals. 
Transporting of synthetic latex mattressesTransporting can be a carbon-intensive stage in the life-cycle of synthetic latex mattresses because of the emissions associated with transportation and delivery vehicles. Synthetic latex typically travels from mines to processing factories and then to sorting centers, shops, and consumers’ homes before going to recycling centers or landfills. 
Usage of synthetic latex mattressesThe usage of synthetic latex mattresses is relatively sustainable because they generally have a long lifespan. 
End-of-life of synthetic latex mattressesThe end-of-life stage of synthetic latex mattresses is unsustainable because they don’t biodegrade. 

Overall, we can say that synthetic latex mattresses are unsustainable. However, the actual environmental impact of a particular synthetic latex mattress depends on more specific factors, including: 

  • the sourcing of raw materials
  • the type of energy used in manufacturing and usage
  • the distance and mode of transportation

Let’s dive deeper into each life-cycle stage and find out how you can buy synthetic latex mattresses more sustainably. 

How Sustainable Is the Sourcing of Raw Materials for Synthetic Latex Mattresses

Sourcing fossil-derived materials for synthetic latex is highly unsustainable due to the nonrenewable nature of fossil fuels. The extraction and refining of these fuels not only creates a significant energy demand but also contributes to the climate crisis and environmental pollution.

What Raw Materials Are Used for Latex Mattresses

Synthetic latex mattresses generally consist of the following components

  • a foam core made of synthetic latex
  • one or multiple topper layers, such as a fire barrier for safety and an extra layer for extra comfort
  • covers made of textile materials, either natural or synthetic

Different materials can be sourced for components like the topper layer, fire barrier, or the cover, which would affect the overall sustainability of the mattress. There are eco-friendly options for these components, such as: 

Related: Are you interested in learning more about the environmental impact of sourcing natural fibers like wool or organic cotton? Check this out in the following articles: 

In the following section, we’ll focus on sourcing fossil fuels for synthetic latex foam.

How Does Sourcing Fossil Fuels for Making Synthetic Latex Impact the Environment

Sourcing fossil fuels for synthetic latex is not sustainable because extracting and refining fossil fuels depletes nonrenewable reserves, accelerates the climate crisis, and pollutes the environment. 

Where Are the Raw Materials for Synthetic Latex Mattresses Usually Sourced From

The top producers of synthetic rubber are based in the EU (Germany, Netherlands, Italy), South Korea, China, Thailand, and the US. 

How Sustainable Is the Manufacturing of Synthetic Latex Mattresses

Manufacturing synthetic latex mattresses is generally unsustainable because of the intensive use of energy and chemicals. 

The typical process of manufacturing synthetic latex includes the following steps: 

  1. Make the starting monomers: Naphtha, which is made from refining a fossil-based hydrocarbon mixture, is combined with natural gas to create monomers such as butadiene, styrene, isoprene, chloroprene, ethylene, and propylene.
  2. Polymerization: Synthetic rubber polymers are created using monomers, a catalyst, and process steam. 
  3. Molding and solidifying: The liquid is poured into a mold of the chosen size and treated to create a solid form. 

Let’s now dive into a few key sustainable issues of this life-cycle stage.

Producing Synthetic Rubber Is a Chemical-Intensive Process

The polymerization process heavily relies on chemicals as catalysts. This chemical-intensive nature of the process underscores the need for careful management to mitigate potential risks. 

Polymerization Uses a Lot of Energy

The polymerization process, a key step in synthetic rubber production, demands a substantial amount of energy. This could have a serious knock-on environmental impact when manufacturing depends largely on fossil fuels. 

Where Are Latex Mattresses Usually Manufactured

Tracking the origin of the fossil-derived raw materials in a specific synthetic latex mattress is often very challenging. 

There are two reasons for this: 

  1. The supply chain of fossil derivatives is extremely complex. 
  2. A certain type of polymer used in synthetic latex foam can be made in many factories using various ingredients, depending on the manufacturer and desired properties.

How Sustainable Is the Transportation of Latex Mattresses

Transporting can be a carbon-intensive stage in the life-cycle of synthetic latex mattresses because of the emissions associated with transportation and delivery vehicles. Synthetic latex typically travels from mines to processing factories and then to sorting centers, shops, and consumers’ homes before going to recycling centers or landfills. 

In the life-cycle of synthetic latex mattresses, transportation typically occurs as follows: 

  • from mines where raw materials are extracted to the manufacturing locations where synthetic latex foam and mattresses are made and put together,
  • from the manufacturing location to sorting centers and/or physical shops, 
  • from sorting centers and/or physical shops to the consumer’s home, and
  • from the consumer’s home to the centers for recycling and/or disposal.

Traveling Distances of Latex Mattresses Vary Depending on Their Country of Origin

It is uncommon for synthetic latex mattresses to have raw materials mined, processed, and sold in one town, country, or even continent. 

Here are some scenarios for transporting latex mattresses: 

  • Fossil fuels are mined in Alberta, Canada, and transported to Sri Lanka to be made into synthetic latex. Synthetic latex is blended with natural latex, which is sourced and processed in Thailand. Final mattresses with blended latex components are assembled in factories in China and then sold worldwide. 
  • Manufacturers source petroleum mined in the Congo Basin and produce polymers in Japan before selling the material to other manufacturers to be turned into synthetic latex foam and mattresses in India. The final products are shipped to the US to be sold to consumers.

You can reduce the transporting carbon footprint by choosing synthetic latex mattresses that travel a shorter distance from the mines and are made closer to your home.

The Carbon Footprint of Transporting Latex Mattresses Depends Largely on the Vehicle of Transportation 

During its life-cycle, a synthetic latex mattress can be transported using various types of vehicles, including: 

  • large container ships 
  • planes 
  • freight trains 
  • long-distance trucks 
  • short-distance delivering vans 

And these various types of transportation vehicles have different carbon footprint impacts, as follows: 

To reduce the carbon footprint of your purchase as a consumer, you can choose not to pick a fast delivery option when ordering your synthetic latex mattress. 

How Sustainable Is the Usage of Synthetic Latex Mattresses

The usage of latex mattresses is relatively sustainable because they generally have a long lifespan. 

Synthetic latex mattresses have a relatively long lifespan of between 7 and 10 years, meaning that they do not need to be replaced as frequently, reducing waste generation and conserving resources.

However, synthetic latex is not as durable as natural latex, which can last from 10 to 20 years

How Sustainable Is the End-of-Life of Latex Mattresses

The end-of-life stage of synthetic latex mattresses is unsustainable because they don’t biodegrade. 

Synthetic latex would take hundreds of years to even begin degrading. It is thus less sustainable compared to natural latex, which is biodegradable

How Circular Are Mattresses Made of Latex

As a principle, products made with one type of material, such as 100% synthetic latex, are easier to disassemble and recycle than products made with a blend of materials. On the other hand, “latex mattresses,” as they’re commonly labeled, contain both natural and synthetic materials, and thus pose a challenge to the circular economy. 

“The circular economy is a system where materials never become waste and nature is regenerated. In a circular economy, products and materials are kept in circulation through processes like maintenance, reuse, refurbishment, remanufacture, recycling, and composting. The circular economy tackles climate change and other global challenges, like biodiversity loss, waste, and pollution, by decoupling economic activity from the consumption of finite resources.”

Ellen Macarthur Foundation 

Mattresses are bulky waste that take up significant space in landfills—often for a long time, too. Luckily, many companies, like Revor and Auping, have made great efforts to offer circular solutions for mattresses. 

Why Is It Important to Buy Mattresses Made of More Sustainable Materials

It is important to buy mattresses made of more sustainable materials because such materials generally have lower carbon footprints, put less pressure on natural resources, and are safer for both consumers and workers. 

Buying Mattresses Made of More Sustainable Materials Reduces Toxic Chemicals In Your Sleeping Environment 

Many mattresses are made with synthetic materials in chemical-intensive processes, exposing factory workers and end users to health risks, especially regarding the respiratory system. For example, one memory foam model was found to emit 61 volatile organic compounds (VOCs), including the known carcinogens benzene and naphthalene. 

In contrast, mattresses made of more sustainable materials, such as plant-based latex or organic wool, are generally safer, as they don’t contain toxic chemicals and are produced in more responsible processes. 

Buying Mattresses Made of More Sustainable Materials Reduces Your Carbon Footprint 

Conventional synthetic materials used in mattresses are fossil-derived and, thus, have a high carbon footprint. On the other hand, mattresses made with more sustainable materials, either organic or recycled, have relatively low carbon footprints. 

Buying Mattresses Made of More Sustainable Materials Reduces Demand for Natural Resources and Waste Management

Buying mattresses made with more sustainable materials, such as organic or recycled ones, means that you can avoid fossil-derived mattress foams, which contribute to the depletion of nonrenewable resources. 

Additionally, using organic materials for mattresses lessens the pressure on landfill space. Keep the following in mind:

Considering that synthetic materials don’t break down for hundreds of years, opting for organic mattresses that are biodegradable and recyclable significantly lowers the pressure on landfills. 

Buying Mattresses Made of More Sustainable Plant-Based Materials Encourages Sustainable Management of Forests and Ecosystems

Sustainable plant-based mattress materials, such as natural latex, are made with raw materials from forests and plantations that are sustainably managed. 

When you buy sustainable plant-based materials, you discourage unsustainable practices like clearing biodiverse forests for cattle raising. Furthermore, you help reduce deforestation, biodiversity loss, and the effects of climate change. 

Final Thoughts

Synthetic latex mattresses are generally unsustainable. The raw materials for synthetic latex foam come from nonrenewable fossil fuels, and the manufacturing process is both energy and chemical-intensive. Additionally, synthetic latex foam is not biodegradable. 

However, you can make your use of synthetic latex mattresses more sustainable by following these steps:

  1. Buy recycled or upcycled synthetic latex mattresses.
  2. Keep a synthetic latex mattress for as long as possible.
  3. At the end-of-life of your synthetic latex mattress, upcycle the material to extend its usage and arrange for it to be recycled or properly disposed of.

Stay impactful,



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