The surge in popularity of both yoga and eco-friendly products has spawned a slew of so-called eco-friendly yoga mats. But what does that actually mean? To understand what an eco-friendly yoga mat is, you first have to know what a typical yoga mat is. Most standard, inexpensive yoga mats are made from Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC), a toxic plastic which can be harmful throughout all stages of its lifecycle:
- Manufacturing – The manufacturing of PVC products releases harmful dioxins into the air and water.
- Usage – PVC can contain lead, cadmium and phthalates, which can off-gas and leach during mat use. These chemicals can wreak havoc on hormones, affecting the count and quality of sperm and increasing the incidence of testicular cancer and genital abnormalities in men and breast cancer in women, according to a study by Greenpeace.
- Disposal – PVC is not biodegradable and is difficult and expensive to recycle. Additional dioxins may leech into the soil when the discarded products end up in landfills.
Concerns about PVC have led to bans and restrictions of the plastic in several European countries, but not yet in the United States. Because of the health hazards of PVC, companies have developed eco-friendly yoga mats made from alternative materials which claim to be better for the environment and your health. Most eco yoga mats will fall into the following categories:
Rubber Yoga Mats
Natural rubber is touted as eco-friendly because it’s derived from a renewable resource – the rubber tree – and because it’s biodegradable. Rubber mats are typically quite sticky and fairly durable.
Yoga mats can be made out of closed cell or open cell rubber. Open cell rubber absorbs sweat which makes it sticky, but it requires more frequent cleanings. Closed cell rubber doesn’t absorb sweat so is more hygienic but also more slippery.
Rubber yoga mats can give off an odor the first few days of use, but it should go away after you air it out. If you have allergies to latex, however, you may want to stay away from a natural rubber mat. There are also synthetic, latex-free rubber mats available.
Plant Fiber Yoga Mats
Typical materials include jute hemp, and cotton. Because they’re made from plants, these materials are promoted as renewable and biodegradable. Often, yoga mats made from plant fibers also include other materials such as rubber to add more cushion and stickiness. If maximum eco-friendliness is important to you, look for plant materials that are certified organic.
PER Yoga Mats
Polymer Environmental Resin (PER) is a synthetic plastic mat which claims to be made without toxic substances. Reportedly made with PVC, PER is not biodegradable.
TPE Yoga Mats
Thermal Plastic Elastomer (TPE) is another synthetic, non-toxic plastic mat. TPE claims to be biodegradable and can be melted down for reuse.
So it seems like a no-brainer to get an eco yoga mat rather than one that could harm you and the environment. But, there is a downside. Since eco yoga mats are made from natural materials, not industrial strength plastics, they tend not to last as long as standard mats. They also tend to be more expensive than standard yoga mats. Many people might think it’s worth the extra money to avoid breathing toxic fumes from your mat.
Ready to buy an eco-friendly yoga mat? Check out customer reviews of the most popular eco yoga mats. Once you’re ready to switch to an eco-friendly mat, check out these 30 ways to reuse your old yoga mat instead of sending it to a landfill.