When you buy a yoga mat, the last thing on your mind might be sustainability.
However, yoga mats are not particularly green. They are usually made from plastic, which is a non-renewable resource.
They also need to be replaced more often than you might think, which can accumulate waste and increase the demand for more yoga mats.
We’ll guide you through what you need to know about buying a new yoga mat with sustainability in mind.
1. What Are Yoga Mats Made Of?
Most yoga mats are made from plastic. In particular, they are usually made from vinyl, which is also referred to as PVC.
You might also come across yoga mats made from rubber, ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA) and Thermoplastic elastomers (TPE) – which is another kind of plastic. EVA is a kind of plastic made from ethylene and vinyl acetate.
Rubber can be made from latex, which comes from the rubber tree. Synthetic rubber is common too, which is made from plastic.
2. Are Yoga Mats Made Sustainably?
Yoga mats are not made sustainably because they are usually made from plastic, which is non-renewable. Eventually, there will be no more petroleum left to make new plastic.
Drilling or mining for petroleum to make plastic is also highly polluting, with almost 5% of global emissions being traced back to plastic production.
However, natural rubber, which comes from latex, is renewable. This is because latex comes from the sap of the rubber tree.
As sustainability becomes more mainstream, some companies are seeking to make yoga mats from recycled rubber.
Recycling cuts down on energy use, water use, and pollution compared to making new products from scratch, as new materials do not need to be mined.
While using recycled materials is the more sustainable choice, remember it is not a perfect solution. Recycling still requires energy and can create pollution.
Plastic can also only be recycled a limited amount of times, so a yoga mat made from recycled materials will eventually end up in landfills or be incinerated.
Keep in mind that in the US, most energy comes from non-renewable sources like coal and gas. Continuing to use non-renewable energy to create new products from recycled materials is not sustainable either.
However, TPE may be a more sustainable material than other plastics. TPE is easier to process than other plastics as it takes less time to shape and mold, saving energy.
3. Are Yoga Mats Bad for the Environment?
Creating yoga mats is bad for the environment due to the pollution the plastic creates.
Yoga mats also do not have a particularly long life span. It’s not recommended to keep the same yoga mat for life.
If you do yoga, you might notice the mats begin to wear down after use. Yoga mats need to be replaced every six to twelve months.
Not replacing your yoga mat can lead to injury, even if there is no visible damage like tears.
As people will need to replace their old yoga mats, there is a demand for yoga mats. More demand means more resources are used up to make more of this product.
4. Are Yoga Mats Toxic?
Whether yoga mats are toxic depends on the materials used to make them.
PVC yoga mats
PVC is toxic. PVC in its natural form is hard.
Chemicals known as plasticizers are added to make flexible, spongey PVC yoga mats. Stabilizers may be added to make them flame retardant.
Research found that these additives can leach out of the PVC and impact the surrounding environment and the humans using the products.
In particular, additives seem to migrate more out of flexible PVC – like yoga mats – compared to rigid PVC. Some of these additives can include lead and cadmium.
Lead exposure in humans can interfere with the immune system, nervous system, reproductive system, cardiovascular system, kidney function, and more.
In the environment, it can negatively impact the growth and reproduction of flora and fauna.
Rubber yoga mats
Rubber can be made from natural latex or plastic.
Even if the rubber was initially derived from natural latex, chemicals and dyes are often added so it can be used in products like yoga mats. Natural rubber is also a common allergen.
These textile dyes can contain copper, lead, cadmium, and more harmful substances. These can pollute water supplies when the yoga mat is washed.
This can negatively impact the health of marine life. For example, it can negatively impact marine plants’ growth, which fish consume or reside in.
It can also impact how much oxygen and sunlight can penetrate through the water.
Synthetic rubber may be toxic. Research has found some carcinogenic chemicals in synthetic rubber turf athletic fields, but it’s not clear if those concerns are applicable to synthetic rubber yoga mats.
TPE yoga mats
TPE is not considered toxic. This is why you will see it being used in medical equipment and as food storage beyond yoga mats.
Keep in mind that other elastomers could potentially leach hazardous compounds, including lead.
EVA yoga mats
EVA is non-toxic when it is used for yoga mats. Find out more about the pros and cons of EVA as a material here.
5. Are Yoga Mats Biodegradable?
Generally, yoga mats are not biodegradable. This is because plastic can take decades to break down.
Natural rubber is biodegradable. However, it can take a very long time to break down as yoga mats are large and thick.
6. Are Yoga Mats Compostable?
Plastic yoga mats are not compostable. Even a biodegradable product might not necessarly be compostable.
Biodegradable means a product breaks down, but compostable means it breaks down into organic matter.
So, if you were to try composting a rubber yoga mat, you need to ensure it is made of 100% natural rubber.
7. Are Yoga Mats Recyclable?
However, dyes, UV retardants, plasticizers, other additives, and damage from use can impact if they are actually suited for recycling.
Before disposing of a yoga mat, check the original packaging to see if it is marked as recyclable.
EVA is technically recyclable, but it is difficult to do so, which is why it requires mechanical recycling. Most people might not live in an area with a facility capable of recycling EVA.
8. Are Yoga Mats Washable?
Yoga mats are usually washable. You will need to read the packaging instructions to find the best way to wash your yoga mat.
While some can be placed in the washing machine, others must be hand-washed. You can usually clean up small stains with wet wipes.
9. Are Yoga Mats Sustainable?
Yoga mats are generally not sustainable. They are typically made of plastic, which is not renewable.
Natural rubber yoga mats are more sustainable as it is a renewable resource. However, it is not a perfect solution.
It takes several years for rubber trees to mature, but high demand could mean there is not enough time for young trees to mature.
This will take up more land and cause deforestation as more trees are planted and harvested to meet demand.
Yoga mats also need to be replaced up to twice a year, which can result in waste.
10. How to Dispose of Yoga Mats?
While yoga mats are technically recyclable, they might not be suited for domestic recycling, depending on where you live. They can also be too large to fit in a home recycling bin.
This means a yoga mat would need to be sent to an industrial recycling facility.
Not everyone will have access to an industrial recycling facility either. If this is the case, it will need to go into general waste.
A biodegradable yoga mat is too large for a home compost bin, and may have to go to an industrial composting facility. However, again, these are not accessible to everyone.
You can also upcycle yoga mats. For example, you can cut them up and use them to pad hard and sharp surfaces if you have pets or young children.
You can also donate them to charity shops if they are in good condition.
11. What Are Eco-Friendly Yoga Mats Made Of?
Recycled rubber is more sustainable than new rubber as it saves energy, but it can only be recycled so many times before becoming unusable. When this happens, it will end up going to waste.
3 Eco-Friendly Yoga Mat Brands
Manduka’s Eko yoga mats are made from natural rubber, which is renewable and biodegradable.
2. Ajna Wellbeing
Ajna Wellbeing makes their eco-friendly yoga mats from jute. These mats are biodegradable.
Youmiia’s Yoco yoga mats are made from natural rubber and cork, which are also renewable and biodegradable.