Our pillows get a lot of use. Most of us sleep on them every night and we may also lounge on them while parked on the couch. Pillows make us cozy and comfortable, but what do you do with one when it is completely worn out, smelly, or damaged beyond repair?
Most recycling programs do not accept pillows in curbside bins. You will need to find out if your transfer station accepts them. Although recycling options are very limited, you can keep pillows out of a landfill by reusing or downcycling them. If they are clean, you may be able to donate them, another good way to reduce your waste footprint.
Before you purchase your next pillow, take a moment to learn whether it will be recyclable. Consciously shopping to select recyclable or compostable products helps minimize your environmental impact.
Pillow Recycling Preparation
Pillows are most commonly filled with cotton, polyester, memory foam, or down feathers. Most of these materials are recyclable. Down pillows are not accepted for recycling but you can compost the feathers, separating the fabric for recycling if it is clean. The fabric in pillows is usually cotton or polyester.
Contaminated pillows are an ongoing medical concern, even as the pandemic recedes. If a pillow has been bloodied or soaked with bodily fluids and oil from the skin of someone with an illness, it should not be recycled.
Before donating, upcycling, or recycling your unwanted pillows, a quick wash is a good idea. Add only about a third of the soap you would to a normal clothing load. Start to dry the pillow in the dryer for a short cycle, then let it air-dry the rest of the way. You can also vacuum pillows before you wash them to get them extra clean.
The fabric can be recovered by textiles recycling programs. Add your ZIP code to this Earth911 Recycling Locator search to find out where you can drop the fabric locally.
The latex foam used in a pillow may be recyclable, but options are very limited. Here’s an Earth911 search to help identify local options; just add your ZIP code to get results.
Why Recycle Pillows
Americans discarded 12.1 million tons of furniture and accessories in 2018, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Statista reports that the worldwide pillow sales in 2019 accounted for $15.6 billion in spending. Keeping this vast flow of waste out of landfills, where synthetic materials will break down into microplastics and other materials will generate methane as they decompose, is good for the environment.
Drop-off Recycling of Pillows
The American Textile Recycling Service (ATRS) offers drop-off bins for textiles and household goods such as pillows in a few states — if you cannot find a local option on Earth911, see if the ATRS has one near your home or office.
While municipal textile recycling is still rare, some communities are starting collections. Contact your local municipality or solid waste district to see if this is an option for you.
Many clothing donation locations, such as Salvation Army and Goodwill, do not accept used pillows for sanitary reasons.
Look instead to local homeless shelters, animal shelters, or wildlife rehabilitation centers for possible donation options. Animal shelters are a good bet since they often need bedding for their animals and old pillows work nicely. Contact these organizations before visiting to determine if they accept pillows and if there are any preparation requirements, before you show up with your old pillows.
Upcycling and Reusing Pillows
Pillows are ripe for upcycling and reusing in new ways. Look at your old pillows as the raw material for new household items.
Pillow batting or stuffing can be reused for crafting new pillows, stuffed animals, or quilts. Sew several pillows together to create a cozy floor bed for kids. Bring your smashed pillow outside for a comfortable kneeling pad while gardening. Reuse your pillow as a bed for your dog or cat. You can even use old pillows to insulate the inside of your home’s foundation. Here are more ideas for reusing old pillows.
Frequent Pillow Recycling Questions
Can I recycle pillows in my curbside recycling bin?
Probably not. Unless you have fabric/textile recycling pickup in your town, you cannot recycle pillows curbside.
How are pillows recycled?
Pillows must be taken apart so that the different components can be separated. This is a more complex process than recycling general textiles.
When fabric or textiles, such as pillows or clothing, are recycled, the material is shredded or ground up for reprocessing. Most textiles are recycled into insulation, carpet padding, or industrial rags. This is the case for cotton pillowcases.
Down or feather filling. Down comes from clusters of soft, fluffy feather fibers from the chest or neck of a goose, duck, or swan. It can be reused and recycled into pillows or winter clothing. Feather filling, which is often from the wing and back of the bird, is flatter, heavier, and contains a quill. An air system maybe be used to separate the down from the less valuable feathers. The feathers may be incinerated, landfilled, or milled and added to cement or concrete for hardening.
Foam-based pillow filling is often made of two different chemical compounds: isocyanate and polyol. Both components can be recovered and then ground into powder for use as a binder in materials to absorb oil, such as after car accidents, oil spills, and at car repair shops. Often, polyol by itself can be recovered, purified, and used in the chemical industry again. Foam is a hard material to recycle and most often is sent to the landfill.
Polyester-based filling is also often sent to a landfill. The material may also be reused as padding for shipping. When it is recycled, the polyester is melted down and made into PET pellets that can be used to make other plastic products. Some facilities will also process the polyester back into oil that can be used as a lubricant or fuel. This material’s fate very much depends on the processor where it ends up.
Do any pillow manufacturers take back old pillows for recycling?
As of publication, we are not aware of any company that provides this service. You can help raise awareness by contacting the company. Let them know you are a customer who likes their product and ask them to provide this service to help keep old pillows out of the waste stream.
Can I compost my pillow?
You can add feather or down pillow filler to your home compost bin, but most textiles will not break down. You may be able to also compost 100% cotton casing, if you shred it first, in your home bin as well. For either of these materials, try composting a small quantity first to determine if your home compost can handle them.
- 7 Ways To Reuse and Recycle Old Pillows: Great ideas to reuse pillows as well as some ideas of how to make them last longer.
- 10 Sustainable Pillow Companies to Help You Rest Easy on the Planet: Green options for new pillow purchases.
- One Good Thing: 15 Things You Never Thought To Do With An Old Pillow: More pillow upcycling ideas.
- How Products are Made: Pillows: An interesting read on the composition, history, manufacturing, and possible future of pillows.