Down on Down: The Cruelty-Free Alternatives

I’ve been in bed with one or two nasty things in my time. I’ve rolled around with them, laid on them, cuddled with them and even been kept warm by them. While you think they might be good for you at the time and you enjoy their lush comfort, it shouldn’t take you long to realise that these nasty individuals actually aren’t that good for you. They can cause you pain, discomfort, unhappiness and you can end up putting more work into them then what they actually deserve.

Anyway, getting onto the bedding. The bedroom is a place for relaxation, well-being and comfort. A place where after a long day you retire for rest and peaceful slumber. I can’t speak for you, but I wouldn’t find my slumber too peaceful knowing that there was the possibility I was surrounded by feathers from dead birds or other animal products. There ain’t nothing peaceful about that! With this in mind, the last place most people consider looking for cruelty is in their own bedroom. There is a chance your pillows, doona and even your mattress contain animal products and are not cruelty-free. Side note: did you know a lot of condoms aren’t even vegan? Gross.

Down

Unfortunately, there isn’t some incredible factory in China that makes soft, plush feathers that mimic exactly those from ducks, chooks or geese. No, these places do not exist. The feathers that fill the down duvets, jackets, sleeping bags and pillows are all from real birds. Some of the them live, others ripped out before they are eaten as food.

‘Down’ is the softer layer of feathers closest to the body of a bird that don’t bear the sharp quills that the outer layers and tail feathers do. It is found predominately in the chest region, but can also be sourced from the neck, under the wings and around the bum. While some feathers are slaughterhouse by-products (no different to leather in my opinion, buy it and you’re creating demand), others are live plucked from geese. The act of live plucking is when a goose is flipped on its back and held firmly between the knees of a worker while their feathers are rapidly pulled out of their neck and chest, leaving them in pain and with open flesh wounds, all while fully conscious. Geese are reportedly plucked at 10 weeks old and then again up to six times a year before being sent to either slaughter or being force-fed for another year to produce pate de foie gras. What a life!

Geese_30_11_2011_smallImage: Goose freshly ‘plucked’ with what appears to be a broken wing.

Marcus Mueller, of animal charity Four Paws, has spent years researching the down industry and how various workshops collect and sell the down they ‘harvest’. Supposedly, the men and women collecting the down work without feeling, grab the geese or ducks by their wings or legs, often breaking them, and then tear out the birds feathers. Once the feathers required have been torn out of their bleeding skin, they’re stitched up with a needle and thread (obviously without anaesthetic) and have it done to them all over again in about five weeks time when their feathers have grown back. Fortunately? for ducks and chooks, the practice of live plucking isn’t common place and their feathers come second-hand from the food industry.

In 2009, the Swedish investigative television show ‘Kalla Fakta’, or ‘Cold Facts’, ran a two-part story on down and how it was collected. Their research showed that live plucking was a common practice in the world’s top three down countries: Poland, Hungry and of course, China, where 50 to 80 per cent of the world’s down comes from.

gooseplucking2Image: A worker holds a goose between his knees and by the neck as he plucks the feathers from her body. What a nice man.

Of course, the down industries refuted these claims saying that live plucking was only conducted when special orders for expensive Japanese bedding was requested. (Sure guys, we believe you. Just like the dairy industry. Absolutely no cruelty goes on there either). Ikea then did their own research after ordering a shipment of down furniture from China and managed to confirm that the Swedish investigative television show was right – live plucking was still common place. Thankfully, Ikea cancelled all their down shipments.

A further point to note with down is that some products are now coming out with cruelty-free badges to try and convince the consumer that the manufacturer is not using down from live plucked birds. However, the issue with this is that the down industry is reportedly like the drug industry. They get the good quality stuff (can’t believe I just wrote that), mix it with the poorer quality feathers (and that), then flog it off as a top product, so you never really know what you are getting.

Doonas

Synthetic doonas nowadays are able to provide the loft, lightweight feel and overall snuggle quality that down doonas do, with the additional bonuses of being cruelty-free, allergen-free and easier to clean. Thanks to modern developments, synthetic fibres can provide excellent insulation and the same heat-preserving characteristics and qualities of down, without the feel of having the feathers of 40 dead birds laying on you. It’s a win, win really.

At the same time, there are many advantages of using a down-free quilt. They usually come at a lower price and are fully machine washable meaning bed bugs, dust mite and feral bacteria won’t build up like they do in down doonas. They are also often made with allergy sufferers in mind and are an incredible versatile and breathable, regardless of what synthetic or natural fibre you choose to go with.

Some alternatives to down filling on the market today include Ingeo (corn fibre), Tencel (eucalyptus fibre), bamboo, cotton, modal, microfibre, Primaloft and Microcloud (just to name a few).

Here is a list of Australian retailers stocking various types of cruelty-free donnas:

Microcloud offer completely cruelty-free donnas and their mattress toppers and pillows are absolutely heavenly. An additional bonus is that they are an Australian owned and made company based locally in Melbourne. A lot of Australian hotel chains now use Microcloud in their bedding and they have recently started selling direct to the public.

Bambi has a brilliant range of eco-friendly and cruelty-free quilts including some made of organic Tencel, Ingeo, Bamboo and pure cotton.

Bamboo Village make a 100% Bamboo quilt.

BedsOnline has a great range of microfibre, eco-friendly quilts from a variety of brands such as Downessa, Bambi, Herington and Tontine.

Primaloft is a hypoallergenic bedding used as an alternative to down. It is ultra-luxurious and feels and mimics down but is completely cruelty-free. At the same time, it is hypoallergenic and can be thrown in the washing machine. Again, unsure if this is available in Australian stores yet for bedding but it is already appearing in coats and jackets.

Alternatively, the big name bedding specialists will always stock down alternatives.

hotel-lightweight-warm-quilt-large

Image: Microcloud bedding

Pillows

Thankfully, there are many pillow options on the market for people wanting to sleep in a cruelty-free environment. One considered to be popular is buckwheat pillows, made from the husks of buckwheat which is in actual fact a fruit, not wheat. Buckwheat pillows are great if you want good, firm-ish support and an airy, biodegradable spot for your head to rest. Otherwise, memory foam, hollowfibre, microfibre and organic cotton are also great options.

Check out these pillows listed below:

Pure Earth do a great Organic Buckwheat Husk Pillow.

Tetre Tea Tree Pillow have a great organic cotton pillow and also a huge range of organic cotton bedding for babies.

The Kapok Pillow obtains it fibres from the pods of the kapok or cieba tree, a sustainable tree that requires no pesticides or irrigation.

Or, if you can’t sleep without background noise and like to lull off to sleep listening to music, this little hollowfibre beauty from Sound Asleep has built in speakers.

Again, always turn to the big stores for pillows if you become stuck. There are always a number of options.

buckwheat_hulls_bulk_zoomImage: Buckwheat husks

Mattresses

Most people never realise that even your own mattress may not be vegan. Conventional mattresses are often manufactured with a number of different animal-products such as wool, silk or horse hair (sigh). If you are in the market for a new mattress, do your research and ensure you are asking the manufacturer what the mattress is actually made of. If they are not sure or aren’t transparent as to whether or not in contains animal products, go elsewhere.

Another point to consider is whether the mattress uses renewable resources that will biodegrade at the end of their life. Tens of thousands of mattresses end up in Australian landfill each year, posting a huge burden on the environment. There are a number of companies in both the US and the UK that make organic eco-friendly vegan mattresses, but unfortunately I haven’t been able to find any in Australia – yet. They will be somewhere!
In closing, feathers and down are meant for animals, not humans. Ducks and geese need the feathers to keep warm more than you do, so please explore the many alternatives when purchasing bedding and mattresses. Be aware that some companies that market their products as ‘all natural’ define using animals products such as wool and silk as ‘all natural’. The synthetic market is ever increasing and most stores will now stock down-alternative bedding, so keep an eye out.

Treat a mattress and your bedding as in investment. You will spend a lot of time in it and it will last year many years, so spend the money and buy quality products that you’re happy with to ensure a sound nights sleep.

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