Pillows: We all put our heads on them every night. Heck, we even drool on them.
But what's really in that soft, comfortable thing your face touches every single night? Let's take a look at the synthetic, harmful materials that fill most pillows, and explore a few greener alternatives that will help you sleep easy at night.
Polyester Fiber Blends
This is the most popular pillow filler. It's also the least expensive, as the material is mass-produced. Polyester blends give your pillow a plush, firm feel, but they don't breathe well and can cause skin, eye and respiratory irritation. Not to mention, many of them are made in factories overseas, in less-than-desirable working environments.
Polyethylene Terephthalate Pellets (PETs)
PET is a plastic that's turned into small stuffing pellets. Although PETs are technically recyclable (they carry the "1" recycling symbol), pillows made with them have a relatively high carbon footprint.
This material is in the same polyester family as the last two, and you'll find it in neck pillows, therapeutic pillows, and sometimes beanbags. The production of microbead pillows requires several stages—most of which emit a relatively large amount of greenhouse gases.
Once disposed of, these beads can make their way into our aquatic systems and wreak havoc on marine animals—each one acting as a potential choking hazard. Moreover, they don't biodegrade well and can persist through the environment for decades.
Memory Foam or Standard Foam
Although memory foam is popular due to its cloud-like comfort, it's often treated with harsh chemicals during production, and is therefore environmentally threatening.
Goose Down and Other Animal Feathers
One of the more luxurious pillow-filler options, Goose Down feathers are plucked from the underbellies of geese. Although these feathers make for elegant, soft pillows, they are rarely sourced in a humane way. Live geese could be locked in small cages—their feathers repeatedly plucked. Though some factories are better than others, it's better to play it safe and avoid this option altogether.
Go with these instead:
Not much new news here: cotton is an incredibly popular pillow filler. While conventional cotton is relatively green compared to the aforementioned options, you should opt for organic cotton pillows if you truly want an eco-friendly product. Organic cotton is sustainably cultivated without the use of harsh chemicals.
Bamboo is a perfect example of a renewable resource. It's one of the fastest-growing terrestrial plants, and bamboo stalks can grow up to three feet a day. Furthermore, it's a highly resilient material that can grow and flourish in a variety of climates and soil compositions. Since it's so resistant, it doesn't require harsh pesticides or herbicides to maintain like commercial cotton and other common crops tend to.
Bamboo shreds and strips can be turned into a soft, pillow-stuffing pulp. According to retailers, the bamboo material is similar to that of memory foam and it breathes very well. Pillows that have organic cotton filling and bamboo cases are also a great option.
While not many companies are using it yet, buckwheat hull—the outer shell of the buckwheat seed grain—is an excellent natural pillow-filler alternative. Like bamboo, this product is biodegradable and extremely environmentally friendly. It also makes for an extremely comfortable pillow, as it conforms to the head and neck like memory foam.
Other Plant-Based Fillers
Companies continue to investigate other plant-based blends to craft new, innovative pillows. For example, you can now find organic cotton pillows filled with sacks of dried lavender blends. These emit a lovely, natural aroma to lull consumers to sleep. Other plant-based pillows combine Aloe Vera and memory foam into a blend that's cased in the skin of an Aloe plant.