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Pillows and the planet

Greener pillow alternatives

Another throwaway item that we probably don't give much thought to environment-wise is the pillow. Most of us have bed pillows and change them regularly, so what's actually in them?

As I got into bed last night, I noticed my pillow was on its last legs. I thought back to when it was new, which was around 10 months ago. Then I started thinking, "hmm, I'm 37 now, so I've probably gone through at least 37 pillows during my life." I then thought beyond my own pillow use to everyone else's. We're probably talking billions of pillows have been discarded globally during my lifetime.

Synthetic pillow stuffings

I've never really taken a lot of notice of what's inside a pillow, to I went out to my favorite pillow manufacturer's site to see what the deal was. One one page they stated they would under no circumstances use a chemical that posed any potential risk to the environment. That was encouraging. But what about the filling itself? Well, in my case it turned out to be polyester fiber.

The most common polyester for fiber purposes is polyethylene terephthalate or simply PET. While it's my understanding that PET is recyclable, I've never seen the recycle logo on any pillow I've owned and polyester is just a bunch of nasty chemicals mixed together anyway. 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.

So, it's time for me to find a "greener" alternative. Here's a few of the more popular options I've found:

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.

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

... and this is probably only just scratching the surface.

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.

Michael Bloch
Green Living Tips.com
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