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Choose natural pillows

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What’s in your pillow? If it’s filled with synthetic material like polyester fiberfill or memory foam, its manufacture contributed to the release of toxic chemicals into the environment. Plumping up a natural pillow made from down, natural latex, buckwheat, or other natural materials is better for the environment, especially if they are grown and harvested responsibility.

How to find natural pillows

There's a long list of options for those looking to find a natural pillow option, so you're sure to find something to bring your a long, comfortable sleep.

  • Natural latex: Rubber is harvested by tapping the milk (sap) of Hevea brasiliensis (the common rubber tree), which grows in Indonesia and Malaysia. The sap can be collected for up to half of the year and the tree heals within an hour each time, making natural latex a genuinely sustainable resource.
  • Wool: Wool pillows are warm as well as naturally resistant to dust mites. Organically grown wool is also available, insuring that the animals were not treated with insecticides nor pastured on overgrazed land. Wool with the “PureGrow” label is raised according to organic livestock standards and is also cleaned with environmentally friendly soaps.
  • Cotton: Cotton pillows are made with cotton batting of various thickness. However, the farming of conventional cotton is not eco-friendly because it uses 25 percent of all chemical pesticides and fertilizers. On the other hand, organic cotton batting is made from fibers grown with organic farming practices that nurture soil health and fosters biologically diversity.
  • Syriaca: Syriaca clusters from the milkweed plant are teamed with down to fill pillows. These products are marketed as “Hypodown” and as being hypoallergenic.
  • Silk: Produced by silk worms primarily in China, silk is considered hypoallergenic because it resists dust mites. Currently there is no organic silk certification.
  • Organic Buckwheat: A byproduct of buckwheat milling, the grain’s hulls are loosely packed inside a casing to conform to your head and support your body.
  • Kapok: The loft and feel of kapok fibers, which come from the seed pod of the tropical kapok tree, are similar to down.
  • Ingeo fiber: Ingeo is a synthetic fiber made from renewable resources—usually corn. According to the manufacturer, NatureWorks PLA, the company purchases corn sugar from corn that is grown with and without genetically modified organisms (GMO).Therefore, it is not a certified organic product.
  • Down and feathers: Down is the insulating layer of fine feathers found under the outer feathers of ducks and geese. The down is collected from meat processing plants from animals who are raised commercially. It is not possible, however, to know if these animals were raised organically.

Find it! Natural pillows

Natural pillows are available in several fibers, each with its own characteristics. To make the best eco-friendly choice, always select pillows filled with certified organic fibers if available because these products are guaranteed to have been cultivated or raised with the least harm to the environment. Likewise, the pillow cover (ticking) for the fill material, as well as the pillowcase should be made with organic or natural fibers.

Choosing natural pillows helps you go green because…

  • It avoids the use of synthetic materials, such as polyester fiberfill and memory foam, whose manufacture creates toxic chemicals that can pollute air and water, as well as affect the health of humans.
  • Fill materials that are grown organically support agricultural methods that are sustainable and do not pose environmental harm to ecosystems, wildlife, or humans.

Americans typically own two to three pillows per bed and US sales of bed pillows in 2004 grew 5 percent to $928 million.[1][2] Most of those pillows are made of polyester, or goose or duck down.[1] Additionally, memory foam pillows have grown in popularity in recent years.[3]

The synthetics to avoid

If you want to have a toxin-free sleep that comes with fewer environmental drawbacks, steer clear of synthetics such as polyester fiberfill and polyurethane foam. These and other synthetic foam pillows are made from polyurethane, which can contain many substances that are not only toxic for you, but also for your family.

Polyester fiberfill

Polyester fiberfill is made from petroleum, a non-renewable resource. It’s use contributes to the environmental hazards associated with petroleum exploration and processing, including the disruption of land and ocean habitats and pollution of water supplies. In 2005, 53 billion pounds of polyester was produced worldwide with China being the biggest producer.[4] But the extraction of oil isn't the only eco-downside of polyester. Additional environmental concerns include:

  • The main ingredient in polyester’s manufacture is ethylene glycol, a toxic chemical that can be absorbed into the body by inhalation and through the skin, where it can damage kidneys and the central nervous system. Textile mills using ethylene glycol released 43,614 pounds of it into the environment in 2001.[5]
  • Polyester production requires high energy consumption, averaging 63 percent more energy than the production of cotton.[6]
  • Dye carriers are used to dye polyester and these chemicals are toxic; some are carcinogenic.

Flexible polyurethane foam

Flexible Polyurethane Foam (FPF), or visco elastic foam, is marketed as “memory foam.” It is polyurethane foam that has additional chemicals added to increase weight or density. It is also used in mattresses and has become a major component in the bedding industry. Total US production of all polyurethane products in 2004 was more than 6.6 million pounds, which is almost a 10 percent increase over two years.[7]

Pillows manufactured from polyurethane have the following environmental concerns:

Down controversy

While the United States Department of Agriculture reports that feathers and down are removed from geese and ducks after they are killed for meat, reports of live-plucking of these birds persist. Additionally, down and feathers are blamed for allergy symptoms. Yet, studies show that less than 1 percent of the population is allergic to down and feathers. Rather, people are more likely to be allergic to the dust and dirt that can accumulate in bedding over time.


  • benzene: A flammable solvent used to make many household products, including detergents, nylon, paint, furniture wax, lacquer, resins, and oil (although its use in many other household products was banned in 1978). It is poisonous when ingested.
  • formaldehyde: A flammable reactive gas belonging to the VOC (volatile organic compound) family of chemicals. It is widely used in personal care products, building materials, insulation, and home furnishings. Ingestion of the chemical can cause severe physical reactions, including coma, internal bleeding, and death. The US Department of Health and Human Services considers it a probable human carcinogen.
  • genetically modified organisms (GMO): A GMO results from merging the genetic make-up of two organisms to create a desired byproduct that could otherwise not be found in nature. Engineering GMOs is a common practice in conventional farming, and studies have shown that GMOs pose significant environmental risks such as killing off living, natural organisms and becoming immune to pesticides.
  • hypoallergenic: Having little likelihood of causing an allergic response. In Europe, special microbiological tests—Bioburden tests—can be required to determine levels of bacteria or other harmful substances.
  • volatile organic compounds (VOCs): Organic solvents that easily evaporate into the air. VOCs are emitted by thousands of products including paints, cleaning supplies, pesticides, building materials and furnishings and they may cause immediate and long-term health problems.

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Millet hulls also are a great pillow stuffing. You can buy both millet and buckwheat hull pillows at

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