Cardboard Beds Are Actually Life-Saving

Tokyo Olympics cardboard beds

IOC Media / Twitter

Key Takeaways

  • The Tokyo Olympics cardboard beds, designed by Japanese brand Airweave, are much sturdier than they look, supporting up to 440 pounds.
  • Airweave cardboard beds and mattresses were designed to be sustainable and sterile.
  • Cardboard beds have been used in evacuation centers, homeless shelters, and COVID-19 field hospitals long before the Olympics.

Something ordinary has stolen the show at the Tokyo Olympics: the beds.

Multiple social media posts claimed that organizers installed flimsy cardboard bed frames in the Olympic Village to discourage athletes from having sex. But Irish gymnast Rhys McClenaghan debunked the myth with a Twitter video of him jumping on his bed, proving its sturdiness. 

“It’s fake! Fake news,” McClenaghan said.

Since a record number of 450,000 condoms were handed out during the 2016 Rio Olympics, speculators also suggested that the "anti-sex beds" were in place to reduce close contact among athletes and curb the spread of COVID-19.

However, Olympics organizers had announced the cardboard beds in September 2019, long before the pandemic, according to AFP Fact Check.

The cardboard beds, designed by Japanese manufacturer Airweave, were meant to be sustainable. Airweave provided 18,000 beds and mattresses for the Olympics, and they could be recycled or reused after the games, Associated Press reported. 

Although the beds are made of cardboard, they can support up to 440 lbs. Airweave also boasted its mattress as “the cleanest mattress on earth” as it is 100% washable and it can be disinfected with ethyl alcohol. Its firm surface can help athletes relieve back and joint pain. Prior to the Olympics, Airweave mattresses have been used in hospitals, clinics, and elder homes in Japan. 

Cardboard Beds Saved Lives 

Cardboard beds are not necessarily a groundbreaking innovation. Yoshihiro Mizutani, the president of cardboard manufacturer J Packs, invented a cardboard relief bed for evacuation centers after the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

The cardboard beds have been life-saving in places with frequent natural disasters. When deployed in evacuation centers, the beds provided a warmer surface than the floor, preventing survivors from getting hypothermia, Mitzutani told NHK during an interview. 

“We can make thousands, tens of thousands, of these beds a day. We can mass produce them and deliver them where they're needed,” he said.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Mitzutani tweaked his design to incorporate higher partitions that offered better social distancing. He has been sharing his knowledge with healthcare professionals and volunteers in hopes of reducing disaster-related deaths. Recently, he also donated cardboard beds to a hospital that treats COVID-19 patients in Vietnam. 

At the height of the pandemic, India and Thailand built entire makeshift hospitals with waterproof cardboard beds because they were affordable and could be assembled within minutes. Cardboard beds have also been used in homeless shelters in parts of the United States and the United Kingdom.

While late night comedians are having their fun with "anti-sex bed" jokes, the cardboard beds may prove to be much more useful than their humble appearance.

What This Means For You

The cardboard beds in the Olympic Village are not meant to discourage sex among athletes. Not only can be they disinfected thoroughly and recycled, they have also been life-saving in evacuation centers, homeless shelters, and COVID-19 field hospitals.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

By Daphne Lee
Daphne Lee is a senior news editor at Verywell Health.