A version of this article originally appeared in Rodale's Organic Life magazine, a handbook for living naturally in the modern world.
How to Sleep on and Compost Your Sheets
We all want a peaceful night's sleep. After all, we spend about 1/3 of our lives in bed. But when you consider that the average queen size set of sheets requires up to three pounds of chemicals to be made, the idea of curling up in harmful substances becomes a bit more worrisome.
But if you're looking to live a non-toxic life, you do have another option: compostable bed sheets.
Beantown Bedding was conceived when co-founders Kirsten Lambert and Joan Ripple went to visit their respective children at college. "By the time it was Thanksgiving, they still hadn't washed their sheets," says Lambert. "So we said 'oh we'll go find them something that is disposable,' and there was nothing out there."
Lambert and Ripple recognized a void in the market. But they knew if they were going to create something disposable, it had to be environmentally friendly. The women spent a year-and-a-half looking into fibers and doing research, testing the products on college students. They eventually settled on Tencel, a premium fiber from Eucalyptus. While top-of-the-line sheets are sometimes made with Tencel too, those are woven and knit, and treated with extensive chemicals. Beantown Bedding is bound together with high-pressure water jets without colors, chemicals, or fancy finishes. They require 70% less land to produce, and 20 times less water to grow than normal cotton.
“Conventional (non-organic) cotton is grown and harvested using heavy quantities of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides in production to maximize efficiency and output," says Lambert. "Beantown Bedding has no chemicals at all."
While Beantown Bedding was originally conceived with college students in mind, the brand has evolved into a staple of the hospitality business, for places like Air BnB's and hotels that purchase the product in bulk.
"As a startup, we're very focused on where we have traction," says Lambert. "With those businesses, they have such business with laundry, and when it comes to labor and loss and sustainability, we cut out about half of the operation steps." In hotels, about a quarter of linens are lost, stolen, or damaged- a term referred to as "shrinkage."
Not only does using disposable bed sheets eliminate the water energy, carbon emissions, detergent runoff and need for supplies required to launder an entire hotel's bed linens on a daily basis, but it minimizes the need and cost of manpower normally required to do that laundry. And in a review-driven industry, hotels and Air BnB's can ensure the sheets are clean because they're new to every guest.
Larger institutions have found a variety of ways to reuse their Beantown Bedding. One Texas university grinds theirs up in a wood chipper to be used as lawn cover during tailgates. Some even mix with lawn clippings and mulch before composting. "The vast majority of our customers are institutional/businesses who utilize commercial composting facilities," says Lambert.