The physical and mental health benefits of yoga are undeniable. From building strength and increasing flexibility to effectively managing stress. It is no surprise that practising yoga popularity continues to grow. However, there is more to consider than just the poses you are doing. You should also consider the impact the mat you use has on the environment.

Conventional yoga mats are bad for the environment since they are usually made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) made pliable by phthalates. PVC and phthalates aren’t recyclable and release carcinogens. Do your research and invest in an eco-friendly mat to ensure it will not harm the environment.

In this article, we will discuss the ways conventional yoga mats are manufactured. We also dive into the different components of these mats that harm the environment. Then we will discuss what to look for to be sure your yoga mat is eco-friendly.

Yoga Mats Harmful to the Environment

First, let’s look into the many different materials used to make conventional yoga mats. These are the mats you can typically find for a rather low price at big box stores. As you will find out, these mats are made of several materials that harm the environment and human health.

Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)

Most commonly found yoga mats are made of a plastic material called polyvinyl chloride, or PVC. They are toxic materials posing risks to both humans and the environment. Vinyl is carcinogenic, so this poses a large risk during a yoga practice because of the deep inhalation that is a part of yoga and significant direct skin contact.

the environment_PVC Yoga Mats

When considering the environment, vinyl produces dioxins as a byproduct. The Environmental Protection Agency classifies dioxins as a human carcinogen and a priority pollutant, meaning they should be regulated. And since PVC's cannot be recycled, it must be incinerated in a landfill. This process also releases carcinogens and dioxides. PVC also releases chlorine gas into the environment.

Phthalates

Although toxic, polyvinyl is often turned to cheap and creates a durable, sticky mat. PVC naturally is not a pliable material; phthalates are used to make it flexible. Although phthalates are considered safe by governing bodies in the U.S., they are safe when exposed at a typical level, which a typical level is undefined. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have shown phthalates have adverse effects on the human reproductive system.

Other Materials

Although not the primary material, other inexpensive yoga mats may contain toxins like:

  • Polymer Environmental Resin (PER) - A PVC powder product mixed with both filling and fireproof agents.
  • Polyurethane - A suspected carcinogen that is also a respiratory and skin irritant
  • Thermoplastic Elastomer - A mixture of rubber and plastic that is without any carcinogens or hormone disruptors but still is not biodegradable
  • NBR Foam - a synthetic rubber that may contain heavy metals
  • Recycled Rubber - held together with toxic, synthetic chemicals

As you can see, several toxic materials may be used to make your commonly found yoga mat. It is important to do some research to ensure that the mat isn’t interfering with all of the wonderful benefits you can experience through yoga. And it is essential to be sure that you have a sustainable, eco-friendly mat. And fortunately, eco-friendly options are becoming more readily available.

Eco-Friendly Yoga Mats

There are many mats made of materials other than plastic. These more sustainable options are not necessarily going to be found at big box stores. But you should be able to find them easily at sporting goods stores or any sort of speciality wellness shop. Eco-friendly mats are also easy to research and find online.

When looking for eco-friendly mats, you will be looking for mats made out of these alternative materials:

Cork

Perhaps the most common alternative material for yoga mats is cork. A cork yoga mat will have similar properties to a plastic mat as it is still a slip-free surface that provides grip. It is also durable, and it is also easy to clean and maintain.

Cork is a natural, renewable, and recyclable material. Although it is important to note, not all areas offer a cork recycling program. But this natural material will not provide any sort of harm to either the environment or human health. You may feel that cork does not provide as much cushion as a more conventional mat. But the trade-off of having a more sustainable, healthy option will likely be worth it.

Natural Rubber

There are rubber trees that produce natural rubber, meaning the rubber is 100% renewable and eco-friendly. This type of rubber is very soft and has characteristics quite different than synthetic rubber that many of us are used to.

Using a natural rubber mat provides the same benefits as a cork as it is a surface with an excellent grip and is durable. But this option also gives you a great cushion, setting it apart from cork mats.

However, it is important to note that natural rubber mats will pose a risk if you have a latex allergy. Additionally, this material holds liquid and does not dry easily, so if you do hot yoga, this will not be a practical option. Natural rubber mats are becoming more popular but may be difficult to find and will likely have a higher price tag.

Jute

Jute is a rough fabric similar to burlap, but it is not abrasive. This natural fiber provides a great slip-free surface, and it is also highly absorbent, ideal for a hot yoga practice. These mats are versatile, eco-friendly, and do not pose a risk to those with latex allergies.

It is important to note that sometimes jute mats use a PER foam bottom. This takes away some of the roughness that is a characteristic of jute. PER, as discussed earlier, is not the most sustainable option. Know that not all jute yoga mats are created equally. Try to find one without the PVC or PER bottom to ensure it is eco-friendly.

Other Considerations

In addition, there are alternatives to yoga mats altogether. These may be things like using just a yoga towel or practising without a yoga mat at all. It is important to consider your commitment to being sustainable and eco-friendly. If you cannot afford a sustainable yoga mat, consider some other options to see if this makes more sense for you.

Also, as you consider the quality of your yoga mat, consider other yoga props too. Especially your blocks, as they can oftentimes be made out of the same harmful PVC material as mats.

Reuse

If you have a mat you are finished with, but it is not recyclable, there are many ways to reuse a mat to keep it from going into a landfill to be burned. Donate your old yoga mat to an animal shelter or a retirement community. These can also be used to line shelves, like mouse pads or knee pads.

Also, some companies that produce biodegradable and eco-friendly yoga mats will accept donations of old PVC mats, and they will do the work to reuse the mat, reducing the number that ends up in a landfill.

Eco-Friendly Yoga Mat Recommendations

Below are three eco-friendly yoga mats that are in the price ranges of up to $50, $50 to $100 and over $100.

Heathyoga Eco-Friendly Non-Slip Yoga Mat

TPE is recent development in the technology of yoga mats. It makes it possible to produce mats free from latex, PVC or heavy metals affordably. Heathyoga is a family business that take protecting the environment very seriously. Their goal is to provide the most suitable and eco-friendly yoga equipment while respecting the planet. 

Apart from being manufactured in an environmentally friendly way, the Heathyoga Eco-Friendly Non-Slip Yoga Mat has a number of other great features. It's dimension are 72 x 26 inches, so it is long and wide. It also features alignment lines which help you get in the correct position. And it priced under $50 so it is a great mat for yoga newbies.  

Jade Harmony Mat

Making eco-friendly yoga products is our number one priority for JadeYoga. In 2000 they developed non-slippery yoga mats from natural rubber. They strongly believe natural rubber is both the most eco-friendly and best performing yoga mat you can get.

The Jade Harmony mat is the most popular mat sold by the company. It is 3/16” thick which provides great traction and cushion while still providing stability for standing poses. Its comes in two lengths, 68" and 74" and a wide range of colours. Both sizes are priced under $100.

As Jade mats come from trees, the company has decided to give back by planting a tree for every mat sold. And since 2006, through their partnership with Trees for the Future, they have done just that, planting over One Million trees so far.

Unity Cork Yoga Mat

If you are going to spend a little more on a men’s yoga mat ideally you want it to be suitable for any style of practice. The Unity Cork Yoga Mat is super versatile and scores high on all the criteria of consideration. The combination of cork and rubber is eco-friendly and you get excellent whether the mat is dry or wet.

The rubber base provides the right level of density so you will feel comfortable whether you are balancing on one leg or relaxing savasana. This mat is designed for regular use, you don’t need to break it in and it doesn’t hold any sweaty smells. This is due to the cork being antimicrobial, stopping any potential growth and stinky smells.

Final Thoughts

The quality of your yoga mat matters. Be sure you are using an eco-friendly mat for your yoga practice to protect our environment and your health. Consider getting a mat made of alternative materials like cork, natural rubber, or jute. Also, try to shop at speciality wellness or sport good stores to find a greater, more sustainable variety. Investing money in a safer, more healthy mat will be well worth it.

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