How to Recycle Pillows

Most of us use pillows every single night as we sleep and we often lounge on them while we park on couches. Pillows help make us cozy and comfortable, but what do you do with your pillow when it is completely worn out or is damaged beyond repair?

There are few options for recycling but pillows have lots of potential for upcycling and reuse. Donating pillows may also be a great way to help you reduce the amount of waste you send to the landfill.

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Pillow Recycling  Preparation

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, then let air-dry the rest of the way.

Why Recycle Pillows

Pillows are most commonly made of cotton or polyester and filled with cotton, polyester, memory foam, or feathers. The raw materials used to manufacture pillows are not all renewable, and we should all work to reduce and reuse the products we purchase to minimize our environmental impact as well as the number of items we send to the landfills.

Mail-in Recycling of Pillows

TerraCycle is a company that believes everything can be recycled. The company works hard to separate the materials they receive and find vendors that will recycle them. TerraCycle offers two recycling options for pillows: a Bedroom Separation Box and a Fabrics and Clothing Separation Box.

The TerraCycle boxes come in several sizes but are not cheap: They start at over $100 each, so you will be paying for the confidence that your household goods will be recycled responsibly.

With these two TerraCycle recycling options, it’s best to recycle your pillows with other, less bulky items to get your money’s worth out of each box you mail — shipping is included in the box price.

Drop-Off Recycling of Pillows

Pillows must be taken apart so that the different components can be separated and processed by material type. This is a more complex process than recycling general textiles. Because of this, they are a hard item to recycle and not in demand by recyclers. There are not many options for drop-off recycling of pillows.

The American Textile Recycling Service offers drop-off bins for textiles and household goods such as pillows in a few states — see if you have one near your home or office. Also, check out GemText, a Pacific Northwest network of clothing and textile recycling locations for similar drop-off textile recycling program.

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.

Donating Pillows

Many clothing donation locations, such as Salvation Army and Goodwill, do not accept used pillows for sanitary reasons.

Look instead to your local homeless shelter, animal shelter, wildlife rehabilitation center, or daycare facility for possible donation options. 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 of new pillows, stuffed animals, or quilts. Sew many 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.

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 filling (clusters of soft fluffy feather fibers from the chest or neck of a goose, duck, or swan) can be reused and recycled into pillows or winter clothing. Feather filling (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 to be used 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 lubricants 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.

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