Pillows, especially polyester pillow filling, is not recyclable or biodegradeable.  The filling can be made from recycled PET bottles, which is good in that it stops the plastic bottles going to landfill, but ultimately that is where the polyester will end up. This post will give you some plastic free pillow alternatives.

It is recommended that you change your pillow every 2-3 years! That is roughly 35 pillows per person – think of all those pillows!! The only way people seem to recommend of disposing pillows is giving them to Animal Charities.  But ultimately they will still end up in landfill.

You may also like: How do you recycle your old mattress?

I have done some research to find more sustainable alternative.  The following are more sustainable fillings to polyester:


Kapok pillow filling
Image courtesy of africa at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Kapok is a fluffy fibre filling harvested by hand from the seed pods of a tropical tree called Ceiba pentandra.  The tree can be found in Mexico, Southern North America, Africa, Asia and Indonesia.

It has great characteristics for pillows and was quite popular before the invention of polyester.


  • Light,
  • Buoyant (was often found in lifejackets),
  • Resilient,
  • Water resistant
  • Flammable.
  • Effective at retaining warmth
  • Retains shape
  • Risk of allergies

Overtime the fibres breaks into smaller pieces and become compressed, so extra stuffing may needed to be added to your pillow to achieve the height of pillow you require.

Pros: This is the best plastic free pillow filling if you would like a quiet fluffy fibre that acts like polyester.  It has warmth retention properties and is good at retaining shape.

Cons: It is not good for flame retardancy, keeping you cool or for those with allergies.  It is also not the best pillow if you prefer a firmer mouldable pillow.

Care Instructions: There are mixed care instructions regarding the kapok filling, some say that it is machine washable, but takes a lot of drying in the tumble drier, others say that it is quick drying and some say do not wash.

Disposal: Kapok can be disposed of in your compost bin.
Click here to find out about composting


Wool pillow filling
Photo by Sam Carter on Unsplash

This fibre comes from the fleece of a sheep. This material is readily available in the UK. Make sure that the material has been cleaned and not treated with chemicals when you purchase it. Make sure that the wool has been obtained in a cruelty free way.


  • Temperature regulating
  • Hypoallergenic
  • Supportive
  • Moisture regulating
  • Light
  • Firm
  • Slight smell when first used
  • Flame retardant

Overtime the fibres clump together and become compressed, so teasing apart and fluffing of the wool will need to be done to maintain pillow fluffiness.

Pros: This filling is best for those looking for a soft to medium hypoallergenic plastic free pillow fill that is supportive and temperature regulating

Cons: This filling is not good for those who might be put off by the smell or want a firmer more supportive pillow. Can be expensive.

Care instructions: It is best to remove the filling before washing the pillow.  It is advised not to machine wash wool – this will turn into felt, but can be aired on the line.

Disposal: Hot compost bin – wool takes longer to decompose than other materials and will need a hot compost bin to decompose fully.  Cut up to aid the process.


Buckwheat husk pillow filling

The hulls of the buckwheat seed can be used as pillow filling. The hulls are a waste product from the production of buckwheat in the food industry.  It can be grown in poor soil and has a short season.  The plant can be found in Europe, Russia, China, North and South America.

Japan widely uses this filling and people with neck and back problems have found relief with this type of filling. Similar to a mircobead filling.


  • Minimal heat retention
  • Mouldable
  • Supportive
  • Longlasting
  • Heavy
  • Firm
  • Noisy – rustle as you move
  • Can’t wash the hulls
  • Not Hypoallergenic
  • Slight smell when first used

When getting a buckwheat pillow make sure that the hulls have been cleaned well and are dust free.  Most reputable stores will pillows with the buckwheat filling have gone through this process.

Pros: This is the best filling for those looking for more support and prefer a cooler pillow. It is also good for those suffering with back and neck problems and for those who prefer a microbead filling alternative.

Cons: This plastic free pillow filling is not good if you do not like your pillow to rustle, prefer a softer fluffier pillow or if you have allergies.

Care Instructions: It is mainly advised to remove the hulls from the pillow before washing.  It is advised not to wash the hulls, but to air them out.  If you want to wash them, then to rinse them in water in a cotton bag and dry thoroughly on the line.

Disposal: Buckwheat can be disposed of in your compost bin.
Click here to find out about composting


Millet Pillow filling
Image by Em_____ from Pixabay

Millet husks comes from a by product of a grassy cereal plant normally grown in semi arid environments. It is a highly tolerant plant that copes with drought. Millet is smaller than buckwheat so will distribute better than buckwheat and make less noise when you turn. A combination of buckwheat and millet can also make a great pillow.


  • It has a fine bean bag feel
  • Hypoallergenic
  • Soft
  • Breathable
  • Quiet
  • Fragrant Smell
  • Heavy
  • Mouldable
  • Supportive
  • Can’t wash the hulls

Pros: This plastic free pillow filling is good for those wanting a soft bean bag type pillow with even filling that is breathable and quiet.

Cons: Millet has a fragrant smell, that not everyone likes. It is a bit like a bean bag, so will have more give than a normal pillow. It has less room for air circulation than a buckwheat pillow.

Care instructions: It is best to remove the filling before washing the pillow. Let the filling air before putting back into the clean pillow

Disposal: Millet can be disposed of in the compost bin


Spelt Pillow Filling

Spelt is another cereal grain and is a member of the wheat family and is mainly grown in central Europe. The husks are smaller than buckwheat, but larger than millet.


  • Supportive
  • Warm
  • Allows air to circulate
  • High silica content so could help with stiff muscles
  • Larger than millet, smaller than buckwheat
  • Massaging effect on the body
  • Mouldable
  • Can’t wash the hulls

Pros: Good firm pillow for those who would like support and warmth and who have stiff muscles in the neck. Cheaper than other alternatives.

Cons: Some may find spelt a bit harder compared to a polyester pillow. The filling cannot be washed.

Disposal: Spelt can be disposed of in the compost bin. Click here to find out about composting

Sourcing Alternatives to Polyester Pillows

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Further Information


Helen Barlow · 18th October 2019 at 12:51 pm

Do you have any recommendations for replacement for polystyrene balls for stuffing mastectomy pillows? Needs to be light to keep postage costs down as well as good value. https://www.facebook.com/Jensfriendsmastectomypillow/

    Fiona · 6th February 2020 at 3:18 pm

    Millet it the closest you will get to something resembling polystyrene balls, but it is not as light. I would suggest combination of millet and buckwheat could work. Unfortunately without doing some experimenting it would be difficult to give you an exact answer. I would suggest trying some combinations out and see what works.

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