Best Eco-Friendly Yoga Mats
Aren't Most Yoga Mats Eco-Friendly?
An eco-friendly yoga mat is made from materials that aren't toxic to people or the environment. Some eco-friendly yoga mats are made from renewable resources such as natural rubber or natural fibers, and some are made from man-made materials that don't use toxic substances.
Unfortunately, the most common yoga mats are the ubiquitous imitation-rubber PVC (polyvinyl chloride) yoga mats. These mats are durable and inexpensive and work fairly well....so what's the problem?
PVC has been called a major environmental health disaster because of the cancer-causing byproducts such as dioxin that are created during manufacturing. Plasticizers that are added to make the PVC flexible (so we have fold-able, roll-able mats rather than stiff mats) also may cause health problems. And currently, recycling of PVCs is rather difficult and expensive, so most PVC products end up in the landfills, possibly leaching out toxic chemicals into the landfill.
If the practice of yoga is supposed to help make us more aware of healthy choices for ourselves, and by extension, make healthier choices for our environment, how can we, in good conscious, continue to buy yoga mats made from PVC? What other alternatives are there?
Eco-Friendly Yoga Mat Options
Luckily, we now have a number of options for buying yoga mats that are more ecologically friendly. There are pros and cons to all of these choices, but overall any of these options are healthier for our environment than buying the "usual" common PVC yoga mats.
- Natural rubber yoga mats
- TPE (ThermoPlastic Elastomer) mats
- PER (Polymer Environmental-friendly Resin) mats
- Rubber or PER with jute mats
Natural Rubber Yoga Mats
Yoga mats made from natural rubber, in my opinion, are the most eco-friendly yoga mats we can buy.
Natural rubber is a renewable resource, tapped from rubber trees, and is biodegradable. Natural rubber yoga mats are reinforced with synthetic or natural threads, such as polyester, cotton, or silk threads. These mats are denser and heavier than the common PVC mats, and offer a good non-stick surface and good cushioning.
There are a few drawbacks though. Since natural rubber is biodegradable....it biodegrades. Natural rubber yoga mats aren't as durable as PVC mats, and they're more expensive. Also, people who are allergic to latex shouldn't use these mats.
Jade Harmony Professional Yoga Mat - Excellent Choice
Jade Yoga is known for its high quality natural rubber yoga mats. This mat gets the highest reviews overall of all eco-friendly yoga mats according to Consumer Search. It's made of open-cell natural rubber which is known for its good traction properties, and it has good cushioning. It comes in different colors and in 68" and 74" lengths. Because of its open-cell rubber construction it may be more difficult to clean than other types of mats.
This is currently my favorite eco-friendly yoga mat, and I've been using one for about five years now. I invite you to read my review of the Jade Harmony Professional Yoga Mat.
My Favorite Mat
TPE (ThermoPlastic Elastomer) Yoga Mats
Yoga mats made of TPE, or thermoplastic elastomer, are less expensive than natural rubber mats, and are recycleable under heat and pressure. No toxic materials are used during production, and the waste material from production is recycled back through the production process.
TPE is a closed-cell material, so TPE yoga mats are easier to clean than open-celled natural rubber mats (remember that natural rubber yoga mats can be either open-celled or closed-celled). This kind of mat is also a good alternative for people who are allergic to latex.
One drawback is that these mats are slippery when wet. Some people use yoga towels or cotton yoga mats on top of them. They're still more expensive than the conventional PVC mat, and won't last as long, but make much less of a footprint on the earth.
I use these in my own yoga studio for people who prefer good cushioning and a little extra thickness in their yoga mats. They've worn very well, and they're relatively easy to clean. I gently scrub them with soapy water and a sponge, and let them air dry (ideally in the sun during the summertime).
PER (Polymer Environmental-friendly Resin) mats
PER (Polymer Environmental-friendly Resin) is a newer man-made material that produces less toxic emissions during production than PVC. It doesn't contain the toxic phthalates, dioxins, and other harmful chemicals that PVC does. PER is produced from PVC and other materials, but the production method is much more environmentally friendly. It can be recycled more easily and with less toxic emissions than PVC.
PER yoga mats feel more like a conventional PVC mats, but without as many chemicals. They're priced similarly to the conventional PVC mat, and offer similar traction and cushioning.
Since this is a newer material for yoga mats, there aren't as many reviews as for some of the other materials.
The PER mat shown here from Aurorae is 5mm thick -- this is enough cushioning for most people and a few inches longer than the "average" yoga mat, to give you extra space to stretch out. Aurorae actually cautions people against buying mats that are thicker than this, because thick mats make it harder to feel grounded in the poses. I agree. It's more difficult to do balance poses on thicker mats.
Natural Rubber or PER with Jute Fibers
A few eco-friendly yoga mats use jute fibers to give more tensile strength to the natural rubber or PER material.
This may add some to the cost, but the mat will be more durable. Some people have commented that they don't like the scratchy feel of the jute fibers, while other people don't mind it, and think it helps improve the non-slip quality of the yoga mats.
Long-Wearing PVC or Less Durable Natural Materials?
While natural rubber, TPE, and PER are all much more eco-friendly materials than PVC, the PVC is much more durable and will last much longer (i.e., even when discarded, the PVC doesn't degrade much, which is one of the problems!).
So what if we already have a perfectly usable durable conventional PVC yoga mat? Do we discard it to buy a new "hip" eco-friendly mat to show the world how much we're dedicated to promoting ecologically sound materials? Then what do we do with our old mat?
Right now, the "premium" yoga mat is the Manduka BlackMat PRO. Of all yoga mats that were reviewed by ConsumerSearch, the Manduka BlackMat Pro came out on top as the best mat overall. And it has a life-time guarantee. If you buy one mat that will last your lifetime, even if it is made out of PVC, is this a better choice than natural rubber or the other eco-friendly materials that wear out in a much shorter time, thus adding more waste to our landfills? Even if these natural materials are biodegradable, it doesn't mean they degrade quickly, especially in the landfill.
Are you looking for yoga mat carriers? Read the articles below for recommendations for good yoga gym bags and tote bags that will hold your eco-friendly yoga mat and other gear for class or for the gym.
Short History of the Modern Yoga Mat
Certainly the ancient yogis had nothing like our current yoga mats for their asana (posture) practice! But certainly these mats are useful!
Our modern idea of the non-slip yoga mat goes back only to the 1970s. The story is that when B.K.S Iyengar was visiting the United States, and doing a demonstration on an oriental rug, he was slipping too much in the poses. He had the rug removed, and used the carpet padding that was underneath instead. And voila! The modern yoga mat was born! First the mats were produced just by cutting up carpet padding in individual-sized lengths. Then the inexpensive mass-produced PVC mats that we're familiar with were developed.
When I first started taking yoga classes at the Ann Arbor YMCA in 1993, some of these early thin carpet padding strips were still mixed in with the regular mass-produced yoga mats.