Sustainable Yoga Mats

I have started a new-to-me yoga class. It is Mysore Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, and is taught in the method of K. Pattabhi Jois who was from Mysore, India. It is a practice based on breathing and aligning the breath with the asanas.

Predictably, when trying to jump through from downward dog into a sitting position, I would prefer my yoga mat not to break off in little grey pieces that stick to my pants and flake off onto my hands. I would also like my mat not to stick to the floor, making a terribly loud, ffrrraaapppp sound in the middle of everyone else’s practice, when I have to move over to make room or move to do my restorative poses. My inexpensive-and-lived-in-Costa-Rica for a year mat does just these things and needs desperately to be replaced.

yoga om pose

My husband is gunning for a woven mat of some sort and I am curious to see what is out there in terms of sustainably made, non-toxic yoga mats.

A few things you should know about any mat: The inexpensive plastic ones may have some nasty stuff in them, that is offgassing right into your lungs while you Zen out. Find out what’s in a mat before you buy (any maker who doesn’t list what your mat doesn’t have in it, probably has some toxics going on) and steer clear of the following:

1. PVC: Polyvinyl Chloride
2. *TPE: Thermoplastic elastomers
3. EVA: Ethylene vinyl acetate

*Caveat: I’m currently consulting with an impartial (although Ashtanga practicing) biochemist regarding the eco-friendliness and biodegradability of TPE, which stands for thermoplastic elastomer, “a class of copolymers or a physical mix of polymers (usually a plastic and a rubber) which consist of materials with both thermoplastic and elastomeric properties” – Wikipedia.com. I have my doubts as to whether this is actually an eco-friendly plastic, and will be writing a follow-up article on whether or not it’s a good yoga mat option. For now, I’m going to stay in the camp of avoiding it until further notice.

Yoga mats that don’t have any TPE, PVC or EVA can be made from hemp, recycled rubber or virgin rubber, jute, organic cotton or other organic materials.

I found a number of mats out there claiming eco-friendliness, and some seem more greenwashed than others, leaving me a list of brands broken down into three categories:

NON PVC, TPE or EVA MATS:

Image copyright www.rawganique.com

1. Rawganique: 100% organic hemp mats and natural rubber mats. Made in Europe and sweatshop free. The owners of Rawganique live off the grid, practice veganism and grow all their own food. As it turns out, this is the mat I’m buying.

2. Jade Yoga Mats: Upside: They are made entirely out of rubber from sustainable rubber tree sources, FDA approved and made in the USA. Possible downside: Jade states on their website that the natural rubber emits a, you guessed it, rubbery smell and that you might want to air out your mat. I am increasingly sensitive to fragrance, so this might be an issue with Rawganique and Jade, but I’ve read some user reviews and it seems that one can air out a natural rubber mat just fine. As for their sustainability, they do not specifically state company-wide policies on recycling, composting or other eco-practices, but they do manufacture in the US, which rates very high as a sustainability factor. They also plant one tree for every mat sold.

Image of mat by Pura Vita from www.puravita.com3. Pura Vita: This mat is made from used bicycle inner tubes and woven together with polyester thread. Bicycle inner tubes are made of butyl rubber (a synthetic rubber made from a copolymer of isobutylene with isoprene). I dig the fact that they’re using something that would otherwise end up in landfill, and by so doing, reduce GHG emissions and landfill mass. They do not mention other stewardship practices and even so, I don’t think I want to do yoga on isobutylene and isoprene.

4. Manduka: Their eKO Mat is made of “biodegradable tree rubber…[and] instead of using synthetic polyester for reinforcement, we have chosen to use recycled silk and natural cotton.” On the sustainability front they say, “Every seam is sown and decision is made with sustainability in mind. That’s how it’s always been.” That’s the entirety of the info on their site about their sustainability practices and environmental stewardship. I like the recycled silk angle, but as you’ll see below, the rest of their mats are made from PVC and therefore not a company I want to support.

TPE MATS:

1. Gaiam: They make a sustainable mat that, “…is made from non-toxic TPE, which contains no PVC or latex. [Made in] Taiwan.” They do not list, specifically, how the manufacturing of their mat is sustainable, but they dedicate an entire page, and much more effort to their environmental and sustainability stewardship programs. I feel like supporting Gaiam is a good step towards supporting sustainable business, but we are left with the TPE question.

2. Barefoot Yoga: They seem to have their heart in the right place, but I find their website to be spotty in its information and I think they are greenwashing their sustainability a bit. Their cotton yoga rugs are not made with organic cotton (standard cotton is one of the most environmentally unfriendly crops); and their Hybrid Eco mats are made, “using 100% sustainable [word left out here] and a recycled mesh scrim layer within the mat for strength, it does not contain phthalates or heavy metals, and its method of production is completely non-toxic and latex free.” I quoted this as written on their website, and they have, in fact, left out the very material from which the mat is made. I’m also unsure as to how Polyolefin (a polymer often used in plastic wrap) is eco-friendly. I love the idea of their original mat – a jute-covered all-natural rubber mat, but I cannot find their manufacturing or growing processes on their site. I have contacted them for further information and will post here when and if I hear back. For the time being, my vote is no.

Image copyright www.prana.com

3. Prana: Prana’s been around a long time, and back in the 80s, their packaging was old fruit boxes and their tags were recycled newspaper. Today, they participate in and support no less than 19 environmental and humanitarian causes and organizations. In 2005 they launched a company-wide natural power initiative and are an EPA Green Power Partner. Their yoga mat is made from 100% TPE. Prana is a company worth supporting and I’ll feel better about buying their mat once I know more about TPE.

4. Kulae: Their mats are made from 100% TPE. They participate in community stewardship programs, but do not list specific company-wide environmental, recycling or reuse programs or policies. Place and method of manufacturing is not provided on their website. I prefer other companies to this one.

MATS THAT DON’T SAY WHAT THEY’RE MADE OUT OF:

1. Bolder: They do say their mats are, “Non-Toxic, Eco-freindly, Latex, Pthalate, and Heavy Metal Free!” Bolder mats does reduce its footprint by using a small, centrally located office space where daily driving is uneccessary, and the owner lives a small-footprint lifestyle of veganism and reuse in his daily routine. They also have a recycling program for gently used mats, that cleans and then redistributes them to the needy.

PVC (!) MATS:

1. Manduka: I know we already read about Manduka’s eKO mats, but there are several other varieties made under the Manduka label from PVC, though Manduka states that these mats are, “designed to last a lifetime (or two), [in order to] curb the amount of PVC mats that enter landfills every year…Also…[PRO series PVC mats are] manufactured through a process that ensures no toxic emissions are released into the atmosphere.” I’ll skip even a long-lasting PVC mat.

NON-MAT MATS:

Image copyright www.yogapaws.com1. Yoga Paws: Little non-skid booties and gloves to be used instead of a mat. A very interesting idea, and one that plays to my reluctance to see my yoga practice through my mat, though I can’t imagine wanting gloves and booties on while I practice. Yoga Paws is also very short on information regarding their manufacturing or sustainability practices, “Yoga-Paws mini mats are made with Eco-Friendly TPE yoga mat material. Also when you buy Yoga-Paws to keep your practice up on the road, at home, or in the studio‚Ķ you get the benefits of a whole mat and a whole towel in a convenient little package without all that extra material.” That’s not to say they don’t recycle their inner-office memorandum, but I have found most companies like to tout their environmental stewardship these days. Not for me at this point.

For test drives of some of the above mentioned mats, you might want to read this article on www.yogaisforlovers.com.

The Live Journal community also had some interesting ideas for homemade mats, including old beach towels and small area rugs.

I discovered Rawganique at the last minute before posting this article. Until then, I was undecided – and was going to wait to hear the results on TPE. In the interim, I was also going to continue my pursuit of the perfect-to-me yoga mat, looking for one that is made from 100% organic, natural fibers; in the US; and by a company practicing environmental stewardship. But I was so taken by the story of the owners of Rawganique, that my decision was made, despite their manufacture in Europe. So, after I write this, I will happily order my new mat, but until I receive it, I’ll continue to shed little grey dribbles and make annoying peeling-rubber-from-cement noises, just to make everyone else’s practice that much more entertaining.

-Jocelyn Broyles

32 comments

Peggy B
Peggy Babout a year ago

Noted

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natalie p.
natalie p.2 years ago

Hi there! I just posted a comment, but it seems to have disappeared. I'm wondering if you ever found out more about TPE and if you wouldn't mind sharing. I'm currently designing a truly foldable travel yoga mat and I've been considerint TPE as the material, as it's very lightweight, but I also have eco-friendliness concerns. Please let me know if you were able to find out more about TPE!

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natalie p.
natalie p.2 years ago

Hi there! Great article - I'm wondering, did you find more information about TPE, and did you post about it? I'm in the process of designing a truly foldable travel yoga mat and I'm looking into materials now. TPE is lightweight and is more eco-friendly than PVC, but like you, I'm not entirely sold. If you found more information on it, I'd love to see it!

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Adriano J.
Adriano J5 years ago

l bought barefoot hybrid eco mat today for calisthenics work.On the wrap it says''it is made using 100% sustainable and recycled mesh scrim'' not ''“using 100% sustainable [word left out here] and A recycled mesh scrim''.A mesh scrim is sustainable&recycled.

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Michealhussey M.
Past Member 5 years ago

These are actually wonderful some ideas in the blog. You have touched good quality points here. In whatever way continue writing.
www.logomattenshop.de

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Eternal Gardener
Eternal G7 years ago

Thank you for this!

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Lee Jones
Lee J7 years ago

Excellent info thank you! Really grateful to have this insight from all your research...

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William F.
William Ford7 years ago

No mat mean more cold feet! Yikes!

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Steve L.
Steve Ladd7 years ago

FYI, the Barefoot Yoga page has been updated to more clearly explain the Hybrid Yoga Mat. The main ingredient of the mesh scrim is recycled polyester. It combines the best of both traditional mats and more eco-friendly mats, and is much more long-lasting as a result, which is a factor for the environment. Barefoot Yoga also has quite a few other eco mats you didn't mention, including one rated #1 by the New York Times. Here's a link to the more eco-friendly mats page: http://www.barefootyoga.com/Search.bok?category=Eco-Friendly Products:Eco Yoga Mats

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Barbara Agnello
Barbara Agnello7 years ago

good info- i need a new mat

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