Natural vs synthetic doonas

Green Lifestyle

Keeping warm during the cooler months can take its toll on the environment. Here we look at how you can snuggle up and sleep well, knowing you’re making the best choice.

Big Spoons and Little Spoons! Check out our guide to natural versus synthetic doonas before your next eco-snuggle.

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Whether you call it a doona, duvet, comforter or quilt, nothing beats climbing under warm, cosy bedding at the end of the day. But what are the eco-costs of your bedding choice? With a range of options available, is it better to go for down, wool, cotton or synthetics when the temperature plummets?

Sourcing the filling

While the down used in doonas mostly come from geese or ducks that have been slaughtered for the poultry industry, sometimes birds are plucked while they’re still alive – a practice strongly criticised by animal rights groups. Few studies have investigated the eco-impact of down, but the International Down and Feather Testing Laboratory states that “down and feathers have the lowest carbon footprint of any other fill material, both natural and synthetic”.

In a study of merino wool production in New Zealand, the on-farm activities accounted for two-thirds of total carbon dioxide emissions from the production cycle. Processing of the wool accounted for 30 per cent of emissions, while the impact from transport was only three per cent. Environmental and ethical concerns in wool production include chemicals applied to the sheep, some so strong they can last for up to six months, and others, such as diazinon, so strong that it has recently been banned due to safety concerns. Further ethical concerns arise with the mulesing of sheep, a painful procedure where the animal’s rear is chopped with shear-like instruments to scar the area and prevent flystrike and maggots.

Conventional cotton is a pesticide-intensive crop, with pesticides accounting for 66 per cent of the carbon footprint during production. However a comparison by Queensland University of Technology indicates that even conventional cotton has a carbon footprint 20 per cent lower than polyester. Cotton-filled doonas are less widely available and not recommended for very cold weather.

Synthetic doonas are filled with polyester, which is derived from petrochemicals. Oil extraction, export and processing demand high levels of energy. The manufacturing of polyester uses about twice as much energy as wool to produce the equivalent weight of fibre. However, recycled synthetic fill, manufactured from recycled plastic bottles, is also available.

Another factor to consider is that virgin synthetic fibre is derived from non-renewable resources, while down, wool and cotton are renewable resources.

Care, efficiency and durability

The care and durability of your doona can also have an impact on the environment. While manufacturers recommend dry cleaning down and wool doonas, those with cotton and synthetic fill can be home laundered.
A number of chemicals, including perchloroethylene – a potential carcinogen and environmental toxin – are used in dry cleaning. However, the Hohenstein Institute in Germany, which conducts research and tests for the textile industry, concludes that dry cleaning is more eco-friendly than home laundering in terms of waste, water and energy use. For example, dry cleaning uses 97 per cent less water than home washing.

The warmth of your doona is another consideration. The warmest fill by weight is down, which can be four times as thermally efficient as synthetic filling, potentially cutting down your winter energy use from heating.

Wool and down are more durable than synthetic doonas, lasting up to twice as long. They are also biodegradable, while synthetic fibre is not.

The verdict

Down is renewable and biodegradable, with lower manufacturing costs, better thermal efficiency and a longer life span, so if environmental impact is your sole concern, then it is a better option. However ethics and humane practices also need to be considered, and down does present significant animal welfare concerns. Many companies have pledged not to use down from live-plucked birds, however do your research and ensure this before buying down products.

Australian wool and cotton are more eco-friendly than polyester, but have a higher carbon footprint than down. Buy organic to reduce this eco-cost, as pesticides and other chemicals are not used. Additionally, organic sheep farms only ever carry out mulesing as a veterinary treatment under pain relief in cases where the welfare of the animal is concerned.

If your budget or lifestyle doesn’t allow you to buy down or wool, choose a doona with recycled synthetic fill and a more eco-friendly cover material, such as hemp or bamboo. This means you can keep warm with minimal impact on the environment.