Q: I'm looking to buy an all-season duvet. What's the best: down, synthetic or bamboo?
A: Whatever happened to the sleeping cap? Those snuggly evening toques may have gone the way of the bed warmer now that central heating keeps northerners warm, but if you want to comfortably drop your thermostat at night, you still need to make sure you're warm under the covers. That means investing in a good duvet, but which one will let you sleep at night?
The mainstream choice for comforter hunters is still down versus polyester fill. Most assume that down is the warmer, natural choice and polyester the allergy- and budget-friendly option. Both, unfortunately, come with their own bedding set of consequences.
Polyester fills get their loft from environmentally iffy petroleum-based fibres. And down? Well, if a goose or duck is lucky, its feathers are plucked after slaughter, making down a meat industry waste product that some argue is better stuffed into pillows than trashed. But last year a Swedish investigative television program did a disturbing exposé on the clearly painful live-plucking happening on some goose farms. Soon after, IKEA did it's own digging and found the problem widespread with its Chinese suppliers, then cut of those suspected of hawking live-plucked goods. (Ikea has a policy against the practice.)
While live-plucking is illegal in most Western countries, the doc estimated that anywhere from 50 to 80 per cent of the world's down (which largely comes from China, Hungary and Poland) is live-plucked.
The industry argues that the practice is rarer, though it's impossible to tell by looking at a product. Only high-end Finnish eiderdown comes from ducks that pluck it from their chests to make nests. Should the threatened eider species' nests be left alone? Animal rights groups think so.
All this might help explain why you can't find down or polyester at green home stores like Grassroots in the Annex and Danforth, Zero Point near the Beach, Ecoexistence in the west end, Anami Organic Luxuries in Yorkville and green bedding stores like Soma Sleep at Lawrence and Dufferin. There, the main choice tends to be certified organic wool encased in organic unbleached cotton.
Why does organic matter in this instance? Well, cotton happens to be one of the most insecticide-intensive crops on the planet, famously polluting nearby groundwater, farmers and wildlife. Wool seems cozily benign until you learn more than 14,000 pounds of chemical insecticides were applied to sheep in the U.S. alone in 2000 to control mites, lice, etc.
Organic sheep can't be dipped in neurotoxins or fed synthetic hormones or antibiotics, and organic cotton can't be sprayed with chems.
Yes, duvets made with these materials are more of an investment - but consider them an investment in the planet. If your budget doesn't allow for organic, more affordable conventional wool-stuffed duvets in conventional unbleached cotton are available at Soma or Sears, both of which offer Natura's "natural" non-organic line. But if you can save up a few extra dollars, that organic seal will keep you from tossing and turning at night.
Not that your options end there. You can now find duvets filled with spun bamboo fibres. That bamboo may have fewer chemicals than the bamboo used to make baby-soft rayon duvet casings and sheets, but it's hard to say for certain. Rayon from bamboo isn't as eco as we once thought.
Lycocell/Modal (from which IKEA makes duvets) are also rayon-esque fibres made from wood pulp, but they're supposed to use gentler chemicals in a closed loop. Sears carries a line of organic cotton-encased duvets stuffed with Ingeo corn fibres. The making of these corn products is supposed to produce less greenhouse gases than petroleum fibres, though the corn used isn't GMO-free and comes from agro-giant Cargill.
You can go super-ancient with a silk-filled duvet. Though silk is supposed to be hypoallergenic, silk worms are steamed or boiled alive before they emerge from and damage their silky cocoons, so unless it's "peace silk," it ain't a vegan pick. Serious veg-heads can track down comforters made of 100 per cent organic cotton fibres or 100 per cent hemp at Rawganique.com.
Sleep on it, then make your pick.
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