When we learned how active wear is made, it got us thinking about the sustainability of the other exercise equipment we use. Specifically, what’s in a yoga mat? How can we make sure we’re using the best eco friendly yoga mats for the planet?
What are yoga mats made of?
The standard yoga mat is made of vinyl, or pvc. There are also plastic elastomer yoga mats and rubber yoga mats. Getting into more niche areas, you can find yoga mats made from cotton, wool, or even jute. There are many options available, but what’s best for your yoga practice and the earth?
Vinyl (PVC) yoga mats
The least expensive, most readily available yoga mats on the market are made from vinyl. This material provides a good bounce and grip at a low price. They’re also sticky, meaning you might be less likely to fall moving from pose to pose, or end up halfway across the room at the end of your practice.
While PVC is a practical option, it’s not what’s best for the planet. Vinyl is made from natural gas and isn’t biodegradable. These mats include chemicals, such as phthalates and lead, that you’re breathing in (deeply) while practicing.
There are initiatives to recycle vinyl, though it’s pretty energy intensive. The only avenue we’ve found to recycle vinyl yoga mats and similarly challenging items is TerraCycle.
Thermoplastic elastomer (TPE) yoga mats
Another man-made material, thermoplastic elastomer, is gentler on the planet than vinyl. Thermoplastic elastomer is made from plastic and rubber, and while it’s a man-made material, it is both biodegradable and able to be recycled. Also, thermoplastic elastomer yoga mats don’t contain the toxic materials included in vinyl mats.
Regarding performance, thermoplastic elastomer is lightweight and durable enough to withstand years of practice. It has good elasticity and is softer than vinyl or rubber, making your yoga session a little more cushy.
Natural rubber yoga mats
Rubber yoga mats are natural and biodegradable. Rubber is tapped from rubber trees, a renewable resource. These mats have a harder surface than vinyl or thermoplastic elastomers and provide great traction. Rubber mats are also naturally antimicrobial, keeping you clean while you get your sweat on.
These natural, durable yoga mats have a higher average price point than vinyl or thermoplastic elastomer, but the benefits certainly outweigh the price difference.
Cotton and wool yoga mats
Cotton or wool yoga mats sound immediately better, but are they? Firstly, the sustainability of the mat’s fabric will largely depend on the producer, not just the material. How the material is sown, grown, and harvested will all come into play when evaluating a cotton or wool mat. It’s possible to find incredibly clean and eco friendly yoga mat producers, but there are other factors to consider about these options.
Cotton and wool mats are both noted for causing slipping problems. The grip on soft cotton and wool translates from sweater to yoga mat, and they perform better when slightly damp, which is a less than ideal practice condition. While these mats can be very soft, for more intensive yoga practice, cotton and wool might not be your best bet. If you’d like to try a cotton yoga mat, make sure that the one you select is USDA certified organic.
Jute yoga mats
Jute is a natural fiber that can be spun into coarse threads. The plant comes from India, the birthplace of yoga, and grows even faster than bamboo. Jute plants don’t need any pesticides, and also require very little water to grow, making them an excellent environmental choice. Jute yoga mats aren’t as sticky as the vinyl varieties, but the coarseness of the material helps keep you from slipping. The scratchy texture of the threads can be a little unpleasant during some poses.
Jute yoga mats are lightweight, making them easy to tote around. The fibers are also durable and naturally antimicrobial, making them a great choice if the scratchiness isn’t an issue for you.
Pulling it all together
Yoga, as you likely know, can be extremely relaxing or invigorating healthy practice. Why ruin it by breathing in fumes from your mat? There are clearly better options than the PVC mats readily available for an attractive price. We made the switch to a jute yoga mat and haven’t looked back!