In my last newsletter, I asked you, my readers, if you had any questions for me and one that really stood out was How To Dispose Of Your Old Pillows.
Can you recycle old pillows?
There are so many things in the home that can’t be recycled and pillows seem to be one of those items that most people just don’t know what to do with. We also need to know what the term recycling actually means. When an item is recycled, it goes through an extensive process where it's broken down and turned into something completely different. For example, tires are typically broken down and turned into patio furniture or outdoor flooring. You can't actually "recycle" an old pillow.
In Canada and the USA, you can't put pillows in the blue bin as textiles can't usually be recycled. Textile recycling rates are very low, especially in Canada.
Donation stores don’t typically accept pillows due to hygienic reasons, bed bugs, etc. so that leaves us with the garbage. But before you think of tossing them in the trash consider reusing or upcycling them in your home. In some cases, you can compost the pillow stuffing if it's made from natural materials like wool or bamboo or organic cotton, or down feathers. A reminder you cannot compost synthetic materials like nylon or spandex.
How are old pillows actually recycled?
When old pillows land in a recycling facility all the material must be separated before anything can happen. That means the buttons or zippers need to be removed. The foam or stuffing needs to be taken out too and the fabric needs to be separated from the pillow as a whole. That fabric can be shredded to make other household items like carpet padding, insulation, or industrial cleaning rags (cotton).
If the pillow is filled with down, like goose or duck, it can be reused to make a warm winter coat. it's typically not easy for recycling facilities to do this as they have to separate the good feathers (quill) from the bad. Feathers can either be incinerated, landfilled, or milled and added to cement or concrete for hardening.
Foam pillows as mentioned contain harmful chemicals, it's also a really hard material to recycle, so landfill is usually the best option! Sadly!
Can you donate your old pillows?
Like with all things when it comes to living more sustainably, it's complicated. Due to hygienic reasons, most donation centers will not accept old pillows. But I'd still call around to homeless shelters, daycare Facilities, and charities to inquire about donating old pillows.
If your pillows are really worn out and donating them is not an option, you can look for a Textile Recycling Facility in your area. These facilities help to keep items out of the landfill and reduce waste by reusing old pillow stuffing and material to make padding and insulation. In the United States take a look at the American Textile Recycling Service for a list of their drop-off locations. In Canada, Textile Reduction Week is a good place to start.
How to dispose of your old pillows?
Donate to animal shelters
I recommend contacting animal shelters in your area; they always need used pillows and bedding. This is a great way to upcycle your old pillows. A lot of the time shelters don't have money to spend on beds and pillows and that means the animals sleep on the ground. Donating your old pillows to animals in need is pretty awesome in my opinion!
When donating, remove the pillow covers and reuse those. I always like to give mine a good wash. You can also use those pillowcases to DIY gorgeous floor cushions.
I read a few articles that stated you can use the foam inside the pillow to clean the car or other areas outside the home.
I do like this idea, but just want to caution you to first check the type of foam. Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers, or "PBDEs", are flame-retardant chemicals used in various household items, including foam. They were banned in Canada a while ago, but DECApbde can still be found.
The levels of PBDEs in polyurethane foam pillows are among the highest in your house and the direct exposure can lead to liver damage and affect thyroid function. By replacing your foam pillow with one made of polyester fiber or feathers, you can reduce your risk of PBDEs-related health problems.
Make a pet bed with your old pillows
You can also make a pet bed for your own pet. With a little craftiness and great ideas from Pinterest, you can turn that old pillow into the cutest pet bed and it's a great way to make sure that the style and pattern match your home. Check out this free sewing pattern you can use to make the cutest, dreamiest pet bed ever!
Other ways to use old pillows
Old pillows can also be used outside to sit around a campfire (when camping). Once you’ve taken the pillow apart and removed the stuffing you can cut up the left-over fabric into squares and use it as rags to clean the house.
If you have pillows that are filled with down feathers, you can compost those. If your pillow is made from foam and you can’t find another way to use it, then you will have to place them in the garbage. OR you can use the stuffing to give an old toy new life.
Use old pillows as pads for uncomfortable chairs or for your knees in the garden. If you have an outdoor patio, you can buy or make really nice pillow covers and use them to cover your old pillows, giving your patio a little TLC.
You can also keep old pillows to pack up precious things when you are moving. Use them on either side of the box to keep valuables from breaking. Solid memory foam can even be cut to size and used for packaging.
These are some fun ideas. If you don't try them just remember your pillows end up in the garbage.
Bottom line when it comes to How To Dispose Of Your Old Pillows!
It would be so wonderful to see more options available to reuse and actually recycle the component that makes up a pillow. When you think about how many pillows you go through in your life, it's a lot of waste. It's why looking to a more circular economy is so important. We can't keep designing things to be thrown away! With things like pillows, you can see there is no simple answer! The idea is to find a way to keep as much of it out of landfills as possible.
I was hoping to find a few companies that offer some kind of take-back program for pillows, unfortunately, that does not exist. There are a few programs that take old mattresses but not pillows. My best advice would be to take care of the pillows you do buy. That means keeping them clean and using a natural laundry detergent instead of one filled with toxins that do more harm than good. Invest in a really good pillow protector, there are inexpensive and will help your pillow go that extra mile. Follow the manufacturer's instructions on how to care for your pillow.
Have you ever upcycled your pillows?
Did you know we have a ton of guides here on The Eco Hub that will help you get rid of your old stuff responsibly including:
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