Greener pillow alternatives

First published January 2007, last updated August 2013

Another throwaway item that we probably don’t give much thought to environment-wise is the pillow. Most of us will sleep our way through dozens of pillows over our lifetimes – and with many millions of other folks doing the same; it’s worth giving some consideration.

Synthetic pillow stuffings

A widely-used pillow filling is polyester fiber. The most common polyester for fiber purposes is polyethylene terephthalate or simply PET. PET is made from fossil fuel and while PET is recyclable, I’ve never seen the recycle logo on any pillow I’ve owned.

Other common synthetic pillow fillings include memory foam which is made from polyurethane with additional chemicals – not particularly earth friendly either.

Both of these substances take a very long time to break down in the environment.

In looking for “greener” alternatives, here’s what I came up with.

Wool Fibre Fill
Wool is flame resistant and offers excellent moisture absorbency, allowing the pillow fill to breathe. Wool is naturally bacteria and dust mite resistant. Try to find wool fill pillows sourced from organically raised sheep, or recycled wool.

Feather and Down Fill
Made from duck or goose feathers, the higher the down content, the softer the pillow will be. However, while this may be a more natural filler; how it is sourced is important. Some pillows will have feathers that are a by-product of slaughtering, others may be gathered feathers, but it seems in some cases, they will be forcibly removed from the bird; causing injury.

Buckwheat Hull Fill
Said to be superior to either of the above options, buckwheat hull material conforms to the contours of your head and neck without “pushing back” as some fibers do. It has excellent insulation properties for both summer and winter and a single fill can last for years.

Natural Shredded Rubber Fill
Also known as latex, this is a byproduct of the rubber tree – when purchasing, check that it’s not a synthetic rubber.

Kapok Fill
Kapok is a soft and silky fiber from the seed pods of a the ceiba tree

Organic Cotton Fill
Bypass ordinary cotton if you can – its a pesticide and water intensive product.

Going beyond the pillow filling, pillow cases are also often made from synthetics. More earth friendly materials include hemp, organic cotton and wool blends.

So the good news is, there are greener choices when choosing a pillow. The bad news is, they are substantially more expensive. From what I researched, natural shredded rubber fill was the cheapest. Bear in mind though that while “alternative” pillows may be costlier, they have a longer lifespan compared to polyester fiber fills – and living a greener life is as much about level of consumption as it is about product choice.

If you want to stick with polyester filled pillows – perhaps put your old pillows to good use.