Q: I need new pillows and sheets. Are there eco-friendly options, and are they worth buying?
A: Most of us spend about a third of our lives nestled in bed. With the first frost on its way, it gets even harder to leave our fluffy, warm sanctuaries each morning. But all that time sandwiched between blankets and mattresses can start to wear on you when you consider what they're made of.
Your pillows and comforters, for instance, are likely stuffed either with petroleum-based polyester fillers or down. You should know that down feathers are plucked from geese, chicken or ducks either before or after they're slaughtered, then sterilized with formaldehyde, bleached and sprayed with chemical anti-allergens. Note: plucking while alive causes birds considerable pain and distress. Ikea makes a point of not using down and feathers from living birds instead using by-products from the poultry biz (pillows from $59, duvets from $89).
But there are a plethora of other options when it comes to resting your head. You can go for organic cotton fill pillows, which are slightly heavier and firmer. Organic wool fill is fluffier and comes from sheep that haven't been dipped in pesticides or had a plate-sized portion of the skin below the tail cut off without anaesthetics, a process called mulesing commonly practised in Australia and New Zealand to prevent blowfly infestation (see www.vegsoc.org/info/sheep.html).
Natural rubber (either shredded or moulded) is another great option for those with asthma or allergies, since it's naturally dust-resistant and hypo-allergenic. Organic buckwheat hull pillows are perfect for anyone with neck woes. (All pillows from $72 at T.H.E. Store on Avenue Road and Grassroots on Bloor or Danforth.)
For comforters, toasty and breathable organic wool in an organic cotton casing is an excellent option (from $389 at Grassroots and T.H.E. Store). Ten Thousand Villages on Yonge offers fair trade throws (from $75) and duvet sets (with skirts and pillowcases for $180). They're not organic but are all made without dyes or chemicals.
Your sheets are probably a polyester-cotton blend - half petrol derivative, half pesticide-drenched crop. Sure, cotton is natural, but it's also the proud recipient of 25 per cent of the world's herbicides. Half of all American cotton is grown from genetically engineered seeds. Then, of course, it's bleached with chlorine, soaked in chemical dyes and finally sprayed with a wrinkle-resistant chemical finish like formaldehyde.
Instead, wrap yourself in 100 per cent organic cotton bed linen free of bleaches and dyes (queen sheet $140 at Grassroots, $99 at T.H.E. Store). Friendly Stranger on Queen carries pure hemp pillow cases that come either unbleached or in burgundy ($34.95).
Now for your mattress. While you're dreaming away, your polyurethane-foam-stuffed mattress is offgassing ozone-depleting volatile organic compounds. All mattresses and pads have to pass cigarette ignition tests to reduce the risk of bed fires. To comply, most are treated with fire-retardant chemicals like PBDE, which has now been found in breast milk.
Then there's the box spring. Less expensive ones are made with plywood or particle board, which often contains formaldehyde. And was the wood sustainably harvested? To be sure, ask if it's been certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. Ikea says all its box springs use FSC-approved wood (frames from $99, spring mattresses from $119).
But for a truly ecologically friendly night's rest, natural rubber is a nice, springy base for a mattress (from $1,538 at Grassroots and T.H.E. Store). You can also get traditional spring- based types made with organic cotton and wool (which is naturally fire retardant, from $1,298). Organic futons are also available, with a natural rubber core and organic cotton filling (from $879). The All Natural Futon and Duvet Shoppe on Bloor West offers futons free of fire retardants and dyes starting from $100.
While going organic is the ideal, not all of us can afford to. If you're stuck for cash, another good option comes from second-hand stores. You can rest assured that any wrinkle retardants and chemical sprays on linens are long gone after years of use. And with a good hot-water washing they're as good as new (or better, depending on how you look at it). Value Village and Goodwill both sell sheets (from $2 to $4), pillowcases (from 75 cents) and mattresses (from $15 at Goodwill and $79 at Value Village). If you're nervous about what could be lurking in a used or new mattress, get a barrier-cloth cover. It's so finely woven, bacteria, mould and dust mites can't get through (from $259 at Grassroots and T.H.E. Store). Also available for pillows (from $40).
Got an old mattress you want to kick to the curb? Why not call the Furniture Bank on Madison (416-934-1229). They donate old beds (and lamps and pots and couches) to women leaving abusive relationships and to refugees - and unlike most second-hand shops, they'll pick it up.
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