I'm going to read this post someday and remember it was written back in the same month that a study came out confirming that micro plastics are now being found in human blood.
It feels impossible to get away from it. It seems it is woven into the fabric of our lives in an impossible manner.
One place that plastic does not live these days is in the beds inside our home. It took a lot of research on this one - and definitely a little bit of a revelation + some belief in nature's magic - to make it happen.
The textiles in your home can be a major source of micro plastics, but they don't have to be.
The Mattress Cover Dilemma: Wool is the Key
So, this leg in my journey to living a more sustainable life came when I was trying to prepare my nursery when I was having my first babe. We had a lot of a second hand itmes that I'd collected and made new - a wardrobe (that I had filled with stuff that registry lists, Pinterest and people told me I needed that I later sold), a dresser, a rocking chair. We had the brand new Canadian made, organic mattress to soak up all the cash we'd saved on those other items. But what didn't make sense to me was stretching a cheap plastic sheet over top of that very expensive mattress, effectively cutting baby off from anything positive I was trying to do with that mattress. I might as well have gone with whatever mattress if I was going to put that plastic on there. All I could think of was the mattress pads from my childhood - peeling thin plastic quilted over equally peeling plastic foam just distributing the plastic around my little bebs.
The search began.
If you haven't ever really gotten into wool yet - or learned of the magic that wool is - be prepared to be a little bit doubtful of how incredible it is. We met a few gals who solely used wool as their cloth diaper covers and it seemed to require a bit of a mind bend to understand that the wool absorbs the liquid, but doesn't get anything around it wet. It is also antibacterial and naturally deals with the urine so much so that the same wool cover can be used all day, absorbing it and not stinking or leaching pee out onto baby's clothing. The mamas explained to me that they just put the covers out in the sunshine to "sanitize" them, not needing to wash as often as you'd think. Plus, it's a fully degradable material (definitely not a vegan option, but I am of the orientation that wool and leather are far more natural, durable, degradable options versus their plastic alternatives).
I was pretty skeptical until I followed up with the research. But it was real. We promptly added a wool diaper cover to the list and although it was pretty bulky, it saved us anytime we needed a lot of airflow (so in the winter, during heat waves, or any intense bum rash periods when trying new foods). Go Green Baby (in Kingston) even had some upcycled wool covers to buy, and it was well worth it.
I was still unsure during the research phase after taking to the wool mamas, thinking that wool needed to be a winter-time only option. But it also turned out that wool is temperature regulating - it keeps you cool in the summer, and warm in the winter.
But it also makes an incredible option for bedding.
We ended up throwing wool mattress covers (one at a time - they are definitely pricier) onto all of our beds. We used them on our crib, boy's beds and our own. They've stood up to puking rallies, potty training, heavy wetting, breast feeding leaks, and we never needed to change them while any of that was happening. Gotta love that Pinterest mom "hack" of the several layer situation of plastic sheets and crib sheets to improve your life. Wool hacked that all for us, and delivered.
And - a wool bunting bag (we had one from Woolino) definitely saved us from temperature regulating worries and buying 75 of them in different sizes/temperature ratings. SO good.
Options to avoid Micro Plastics
Micro plastic waste can be significant with the use of brand-new and second-hand fabrics that contain plastic, like polyesters and nylon. Besides being less breathable on a bed, they break off tiny bits of plastic (like the very small pieces that are ending up in our human systems) during use, washing, and long term storage.
Good options for your bed include hemp, cotton, linen and wool. All of these fabrics contain natural fibres and will eventually break down naturally without the plastic webbing and fibres waste to live on and on. Choosing any of those fabrics with a natural dye option, a standard for organic textiles (like GOTS or OEKO TEK certified fabrics) or a simple design (without plastic-based tassels, glittery thread or those tiny plastic mirrors they used to put in fabrics, let's say) are all great moves forward as well.
This fabric consideration should also include the fill of the inside of pillows and duvets. Many cheaper options are filled with plastic-based batting and although they are contained typically inside a cover, they will definitely still be on the planet long after you're gone.
Recommendations for buying better when it's time
- When it is finally time to upgrade your bedding, it can be a pricey switch. Choosing something you're going to like long term or a more timeless look is a great way to avoid a constant rotation of trends.
- Choose a duvet that works all year. In Canada, we often beef the bed up in the winter time, and some duvets are marketed as summer and winter weights. Choosing wool filled duvets can help with this as they are temperature regulating.
- A random tip if you're looking to upgrade to wool pillows, mattress covers or duvets is that they are very often on Airmiles. We purchased a pillow, a king size duvet and a double duvet that were all OEKO TEK standard, wool options on Airmiles without spending the same in cash.
- Wool can be very locally sourced! We were able to get a wool pillow and a wool blanket from Topsy Farms, which is pretty awesome in considering a lower carbon footprint for accessing your goods.
- Wool can easily be sourced second hand. This is because it LASTS and it wasn't that long ago that wool was a pretty standard staple. We have a wool blanket that's over a hundred years old (for $25, which I keep in my vehicle for emergencies) which is pretty crazy, and it's in great shape.
- Maison Tess is a great Canadian small shop that provides some exceptional linen and cotton pieces with a more timeless look. We were also very excited to see that the items did not come packaged in plastic at all (because who doesn't wash their bedding before using it anyway! The plastic is pretty unnecessary here, I think).
- If you're aiming to go with hemp, Jungmaven is incredible.
- Obasan is the brand that we purchased our wool mattress covers for the boy's beds from (formerly Sleeptek). We were able to source these through Go Green Baby in our local area. Obasan also makes mattresses with exemplary standards in Canada.
Care for Wool Items + Natural Fibre Bedding
As a lot of our bedding is wool, it does require a bit of a shift in taking care of it. Every spring, we soak it in Euclan wool wash and hang it outdoors on a sunny day for several hours to rejuvenate it. In a pinch, we use Closet Candy's fabric spray to freshen our pillows and bedding (right now I'm really loving her lavender eucalyptus scent blend). If we have a stomach bug hit or a very heavy wetter week (as we have young children) we will hang the item outdoors for a few hours. There's no need to throw it in the laundry (we almost never do this) frequently due to that magical wool magic I'd mentioned previously!
Once you've found your heirloom/forever bedding, it's definitely worth taking care of. Mending holes and hanging these items to dry becomes more of a reality as the investment has been made. Using a laundry detergent without artificial fragrances and avoiding dryer sheets + conventional fabric softeners become essential in ensuring that the natural fabrics don't just become coated with cocktails of ingredients that can impact human and ecological health. Unfortunately the products you choose can take you steps backwards in trying to ensure your bed is a healthy little slice of heaven + peace of mind, so try to choose something that is going to preserve your peace and the fabric quality.
Consider Less to Buy Better
Now, this idea is just comin' at ya if you grew up in a home with crammed linen closets of sheets! I started my adult life with a full wardrobe of linens and slowly realized that there are almost never any bedding apocalypses that require that level of a stash. I haven't actually needed extra sheets for the ten years I've had my own space, but this can also depend on your laundry frequency/style!
If you're hoping to keep things more on the minimal side (because you're investing more in fewer pieces here), I'm going to throw the idea out there that you probably only need one pair of sheets if you're beyond the bed wetting stage. Depending on what your laundry routine is, washing sheets during the day is pretty easy and doable if you have a dryer (which does use more energy, but it would take a long time for that to add up to being as much as producing additional sets of sheets). Even for our boys, we only keep two sets of sheets - one flannel set for winter, one cotton set for summer - because it's not too tough for us to deal with them the same day. The pee pee does not need to fester and the option of more sheets definitely encourages me to let it have a fester-fest.
And, to be fully transparent, the one time I forgot to get this done, they were totally fine to sleep right on their wool mattress cover with a throw from our living room simply because it wasn't like a plastic tablecloth type situation.
Give your Old Bedding an Afterlife
And finally, give those ol' sheets a reuse if you're done with them. Sheets are one of the best things to keep around if you're hoping to upcycle and reduce your waste. They can be cut into rags to replace paper towels, work as drop sheets or trunk space protectors for pet transports, easily repurposed into produce bags with some very simple sewing skills (depending on the shape of them) or donated to shelters or thrift shops.