Most mattress advertising attempts to differentiate mattress brands based on the type of PU foam used, its performance characteristics, how it has been layered, sliced, glued, combined with springs, or ’cut’ with other ingredients. There are many inventive descriptions and names for flexible PU foams; soy, memory, gel, viscoelastic, bio-foam, plant based foam, open cell, cool, high density, plush, ultra plush, adaptive, lavender, algae based, and more. Whatever the description, all rely on TDI and related toxic petrochemicals.
To conjure an aura of environmental probity and ‘wellness’, it is common mattress marketing practice to add something natural, or natural sounding to petrochemical mattresses. To appear somewhat green, some brands prominently label the textile covers of their PU foam mattresses as “bamboo” or “organic cotton”. To distract the shopper from the defining characteristic of what the product really is, others glue a layer of natural latex padding to their PU foam and draw the shopper’s attention to that; these techniques are called marketing misdirection.
Many mattress brands have an ongoing love affair with the “plant based foam” ruse. Soy, algae or some other plant derived polymer is added to the PU foam recipe. None of these added ingredients are needed to make PU foam. They are added to ‘stroke’ customers. The resulting “plant based foam” mattresses are not based on plants, they are based on petroleum. Imagine for a moment you are grocery shopping. You see quinoa based hot dogs in the processed deli meat cooler. Would you believe the addition of quinoa had magically transformed the ground ‘mystery meat’ and chemical preservatives within the hot dog into wholesome, organic health food? All of these “lipstick on a pig” sales strategies are designed to deflect attention away from the petrochemicals within.
Regardless of promotional sleight of hand, the entire range of petrochemical driven mattress foams relies on a group of foundational petrochemicals led by TDI. All pose risks to human health, to the health of all living things, and all exacerbate Climate Breakdown.
Inside an industry marinated in petrochemicals, it’s no surprise to find more unsavoury behaviour. In the United States, Canada, Germany and throughout the European Union, some major PU foam producers have been investigated and/or raided by law enforcement agencies for price fixing and collusion. Between 1999 and 2015 a cartel of multinational corporations conspired to fix PU foam chemical prices internationally. In the United States they were found guilty of violating numerous antitrust and consumer protection laws. Courts in the United States fined the cartel more than $151 million dollars. The European Commission fined them 114 million Euros. In Canada, cartel members got off lightly, paying only $38 million in out of court settlements. For corporations of size, these penalties are mere parking tickets.
Some mattress sellers have been known to create fictitious lowest price guarantees; feigning to match, beat or refund if a purchaser finds a lower price on the same mattress elsewhere. Of course, they don’t. By arranging with manufacturers to alter some inconsequential feature in the pattern of the ticking, the gauge of the springs or another unseeable internal detail, mattress sellers are seldom to never called out to make good on their ‘guarantee’.
In the incestuous corporate world of PU foam chemicals and mattresses, the truth is so ugly it is shielded by a bodyguard of deceptions. You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig.
Author’s Note: All facts and information referenced in the Why Now? series, including facts and information about chemicals and their impacts on human health and environment, have been drawn from previously published sources in the European Union, United States of America, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Denmark, Sweden, Germany and India. Sources include national and state government documents, government funded agencies, national and international corporations, peer reviewed research from universities, the industrial safety industry, material data safety sheets, worker’s compensation board records, articles published in major newspapers, articles published by national and international news reporting services, published authors respected in their fields, and reports and studies published by reputable nonprofits and environmental organizations. Len Laycock