These Nontoxic Yoga Mats are Greener Than an Evergreen Tree (plus why it matters)

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Written by Leigh Matthews

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If it’s more than fifteen or so years since you last bought a yoga mat, you probably remember that there wasn’t a lot of choice. For the most part, your options were limited to blue PVC or purple PVC. Thankfully, there’s now a plethora of yoga mats available, including several seemingly eco-friendly yoga mats in various designs. Unfortunately, there are also a lot of companies out there who claim to offer eco-friendly, healthy, safe, non-toxic yoga mats but who don’t reveal what’s actually in their mats. And, even worse, some mats that were promoted as safe and eco-friendly turned out to contain carcinogenic chemicals.

Traditional yoga practice rests on the principle of ahimsa, or non-violence. This makes it particularly problematic to lunge, lie, and limber up on a mat created using toxic chemicals and that will end up sitting in a landfill for decades after you’re done with it.

So, when you’re buying a new yoga mat, asking the following five key questions can help you get the eco-friendly, ahimsa-friendly mat you need:

  1. What’s the yoga mat made from?
  2. How thick is the mat?
  3. Is it portable?
  4. How long/wide is the mat?
  5. How ‘sticky’ is the mat?

The kind of mat that works for you will depend on the style of yoga you practice, where you practice, your budget, and whether you prize comfort over stability. A good mat will be able to cushion your highest-impact lunges but keep you stable in your poses; will last for years without degrading and won’t off-gas any chemicals that undo all that good work you’re doing for the health of your mind and body.

Without further ado, let’s quickly go over some of the key considerations when buying a new yoga mat.

Our top picks for eco-friendly Yoga Mats

ProductHighlightsLeaf Score Product Link

Manduka eKO Mats

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  • Made with natural tree rubber, without the use of ‘harmful plasticizers’, and are manufactured in a zero-waste process
  • Features tri-layer technology that creates a mix of grip, durability, and slip-resistance
  • Potential for a lingering rubber smell
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Gurus Natural Cork Mat Roots

Read the Review
  • Naturally antimicrobial and doesn't absorb heat
  • Cork layer offers an excellent grip for sweatier sessions
  • Mats are made with natural, sustainably sourced cork and rubber
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Hugger Mugger Para Rubber Yoga Mat

Read the Review
  • Made of 100% natural rubber from a non-Amazon source
  • One of the more durable options for yoga mats
  • Slightly shorter and narrower than standard mats
View on Amazon

Things to consider in Yoga Mats

Love it or hate it, that ‘new yoga mat smell’ may be bad for your health. While some natural yoga mats have a perfectly benign ‘new’ smell when you first unroll them, this smell can also be caused by the off-gassing of a variety of chemicals, some of which are classed as carcinogens. Chemicals such as volatile oil compounds and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are emitted as a breathable gas from PVC yoga mats, as well as from carpets, furnishings, paint, cleaning supplies, printer ink, and other household products. Concentrations inside the house (and the yoga studio) can be ten-fold higher than outdoors (R).

These chemicals can cause headaches, nausea and dizziness, nasal irritation, allergic reactions, neurological problems, liver and kidney damage, cancer, and possible even fertility problems and miscarriage. As if that wasn’t bad enough, some of these chemicals are greenhouse gases, meaning that they contribute to climate change (which has its own negative effects on health).

VOCs include a variety of chemicals used as antimicrobial treatments (which are increasingly common in yoga mats), stain and soil repellents, anti-static treatments, adhesives, artificial dyes, and flame retardants like organophosphate flame retardants (PFRs). While picking up an older, second hand yoga mat in a thrift store helps keep it out of landfill, these older mats are likely to be especially bad for off-gassing.

PFRs have recently been linked to female reproductive health problems, with a study in the journal Environmental Health Perspective revealing that these chemicals in yoga mats may make it harder to get pregnant and have a healthy pregnancy (R). The researchers assessed data from 211 women using IVF to get pregnant and found that women with the highest levels of PFR metabolites in their urine were 31 percent less likely to have success with embryo implantation. These women were also 10 percent less likely to achieve fertilization, 41 percent less likely to get pregnant, and 38 percent less likely to have a successful live birth.

Now known colloquially as the ‘yoga mat chemical’, azodicarbonamide (ADA) is a synthetic chemical with a crystalline structure at room temperature and a yellow-orange color. It is predominantly used in the rubber and plastic industries as a chemical foaming agent. When it is mixed into polymer plastic gel it creates tiny gas bubbles, resulting in PVC, polyolefins, and natural and synthetic rubbers that are strong, light, spongy and malleable. It is also used in beer-making processes and is added to cereal flour for its whitening effect and to bread flour to remove the need for traditional proofing where natural yeast is used to make bread rise. As such, many fast food restaurants and bakeries make bread and other baked goods with ADA.

When heated, ADA releases carcinogens including ethyl carbamate (R), with the chemical linked to DNA damage and an increased risk of cancer (R). ADA has also been linked to immunosuppression (R). In the U.S., ADA is still used in a wide variety of products, including food. Despite campaigns in recent years calling for Subway, Wendy’s, McDonalds, and other companies to stop using the chemical, according to Environmental Working Group, ADA is still present in hundreds of supermarket items, as well as in rubber and leather goods, and PVC products including yoga mats. Production of the chemical and its use in foods is banned in the European Union and Australia, although it may still be imported for use in non-edible products. In Singapore, companies who use ADA are subject to massive fines and even jail time.

Phthalates are another chemical often found in yoga mats. This chemical is used to make PVC flexible, but it has been shown to leach out of materials when they become warm, making it a particular problem for anyone doing Bikram yoga. Phthalates can attach to dust and are then breathed in. Phthalates have been linked to a range of troublesome health issues, including infertility, menstrual problems and other conditions and diseases (R).

Even if your yoga mat has a ‘natural’ surface, the backing, padding, or bulk of the mat might be made of synthetic latex (a suspected carcinogen) or vinyl, urethane, 4-phenylcylclohexene, or PVC. And, even if a mat itself isn’t riddled with toxins, it may have been manufactured using harmful chemicals like chlorine gas, ethylene dichloride, vinyl chloride, mercury, and dioxins, which are then released into the environment.

Some companies have started using polyester in yoga mat construction, claiming that this is healthier than PVC. While they’re right in some senses, what they fail to acknowledge is that polyester production is energy intensive, leading to significant greenhouse gas emissions, including carbon dioxide, as well as nitrous oxide, hydrocarbons, sulfur oxides and carbon monoxide, acetaldehyde and 1,4-dioxane (another potential carcinogen). Polyester production also generates water-borne emissions, including dissolved solids, acids, iron, and ammonia. So, even though a polyester product may be labeled as ‘green’, this is likely less to do with the environmental impact and more to do with the end product not off-gassing toxic chemicals. Sadly, more common certifications such as Oeko-Tex 100 do not factor in the impact of manufacturing processes and only assess the end product. Oeko-Tex 1000 is better, but few fabric manufacturers carry this certification.

Some of the nasties found in yoga mats or involved in their production include:

  • Azodicarbonamide (ADA)
  • Phthalates
  • Parabens
  • PFRs
  • Polypropylene
  • Formaldehyde
  • Benzene
  • Pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers (in ‘natural’ fiber mats).

Minimizing toxicity from yoga mats means choosing a mat made with natural materials free from potentially harmful chemical residues. There are other reasons, aside from possible toxins, to avoid synthetic materials and choose natural, organic yoga mats. Supporting this kind of organic agriculture is one of the best ways to fight climate change and encourage biodiversity.

Organic agriculture promotes healthier, stable, microbe-rich soil that is less prone to wildfires and which itself acts as a carbon sink. The Rodale Institute Farming Systems Trial (FST) soil carbon data (which covers 30 years) clearly shows that regenerative organic agricultural practices are the most effective strategy we have to combat climate change (R). In addition, organic agriculture reduces the amount of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the environment and conserves water.

So, what should you look out for when buying a new yoga mat?

Materials – What are yoga mats made of?

Yoga mats continue to be made predominantly with polyvinyl chloride (PVC). This synthetic material is cheap, usually fairly durable, has good ‘stickiness’ to reduce slippage, and also provides good ‘give’ or ‘sponginess’, for added comfort. Unfortunately, PVC is not eco-friendly and is often riddled with toxins, as mentioned above.

According to TreeHugger.com, every kilogram of PVC requires roughly 17 kg of abiotic materials, mostly petrochemicals, to produce, and uses around 680 liters of water in its manufacture. A kg of PVC also requires 11.6 kg of air, which becomes greenhouse gases and other gases. So, a PVC yoga mat weighing in at 3 pounds (1.36 kg) has an environmental imprint (for manufacture only) of 23 kg of petrochemicals and minerals, 925 liters of water, and 15.8 kg of air. Add to that the energy involved in shipping the raw materials (petroleum) around the world and shipping the mat to you, and an organic cotton mat made and shipped from India, or a natural rubber mat from Taiwan, starts to look even better.

Given the risk of exposure to toxins such as ADA, PFRs, parabens, and phthalates in PVC, and the high energy consumption required in PVC production, it’s smart to choose a yoga mat made with natural materials. Eco-friendly materials tend to be a little more costly than cheap PVC and can degrade quickly without proper care. But it’ll be easier to get in the zone if you’re not inhaling toxic gases or worrying about your impact on the planet. Some good options include yoga mats made with:

  • Organic cotton – excellent for sweat absorption (improving grip in Bikram), but not so good for ‘give’ or ‘sponginess’
  • Wool – yes, it may seem an odd choice for a yoga mat, but a layer of wool over a natural rubber backing offers excellent grip, comfort, and natural antimicrobial and flame-retardant properties. Wool felt may also be used inside two layers of rubber or other material, for extra cushioning
  • Recycled/natural rubber – good, but not great, grip potential. Not suitable for anyone with a latex allergy and possibly riddled with heavy metals and toxic chemicals
  • Cork – provides naturally good grip that improves as it absorbs moisture. Naturally antimicrobial and easy to keep clean, but can crack if not properly cared for
  • Jute – naturally antimicrobial, but often blended with Polymer Environmental Resin (PER) to provide extra grippiness (but not much ‘give’).

Even when doing Bikram, a good quality yoga mat made with the right materials should provide sufficient stickiness to stop you slipping. If you find you need to use a towel to wipe down your mat and prevent slippage, you might want to consider a cork, cotton, or wool mat next time. Some rubber mats have a closed-cell surface on one side of the mat and an open cell surface on the other. Picking the right surface can make a big difference to moisture absorption and slippiness.

Cotton yoga mats are an excellent option for use on carpet or on top of a grip mat or other yoga mat. They offer no real grip by themselves, but are absorbent, easy to clean, and are non-toxic. Be sure to choose organic cotton as conventional cotton is grown using vast amounts of pesticides and water, which makes it rather less eco-friendly than it might at first seem. Unlike rubber mats, cotton mats don’t deteriorate in direct sunlight or with heat and are likely to last a good 15 years or more, after which they can easily be repurposed as a rug, runner, or for other purpose at home.

Some companies are starting to offer yoga mats made with a layer of wool or cotton over natural rubber backing, or a wool/cotton blend. These mats are excellent options for anyone who wants a little more thickness and comfort to their mat, especially if you like to practice in a cooler room and enjoy some insulation from the ground up. Wool is naturally flame retardant and antimicrobial, as well as being absorbent, so it can be a great option for sweatier yoga practitioners.

Watch out for yoga mats promoted as eco-friendly and non-toxic but made with petroleum materials such as PER (Polymer Environmental Resin) or TPE (Thermoplastic Elastomer). These materials may be better than PVC in terms of energy requirements and some toxicity, but they are far from natural and may still contain toxins other than phthalates.

What is TPE?

TPE is a synthetic material with no specific composition, meaning that a TPE mat could be made from rubber, plastic, a mixture of the two, or from something else entirely. The big selling point of TPE seems simply to be that it’s not made from PVC.

Mat manufacturers often promote TPE as being free of bisphenol-A (BPA), PVC, lead, phthalates, dioxins, and other problematic chemicals, but they may still leach synthetic estrogens, even if they aren’t exposed to high temperatures humidity, and sunlight (as yoga mats often are, particularly in Bikram). One mat, by Kulae, is made from styrene-butadiene-styrene block copolymers (SBS). What does this mean? Well, it sounds very much like a composite of styrene, a possibly carcinogenic material made from ethylbenzene, and butadiene, another potentially carcinogenic material, this time made from carbon and hydrogen in an energy intense steam cracking process requiring temperatures as high as 900 degrees Celsius. So, in reality, TPE could be just as environmentally damaging and just as bad for our health as PVC.

Indeed, results of tests by a researcher at the University of Texas-Austin show that almost all types of commercially available plastics (which includes TPE) leached synthetic estrogens, with some of the BPA-free plastics releasing synthetic estrogens that were more potent endocrine disruptors than BPA itself (Bittner, CertiChem). As mat manufacturers rarely reveal the precise nature of the TPE in their products, we just can’t be certain of their safety.

Case in point, Jade yoga mats, which are advertised as non-toxic and eco-friendly, were found by a German agency to contain nitrosamines, chemicals linked to cancer. The company has said they’ve revised their manufacturing processes, but no additional third-party testing has been conducted. We’ve decided not to include Jade Harmony yoga mats in the ecoHome directory, in part because of these test results and because the company closely guards the exact make-up of its mats, only stating that they contain natural and man-made materials and are free from PVC, heavy metals, and phthalates. This is a real shame, as Jade Harmony Yoga Mats appear to be one of the few yoga mats to meet the performance needs of most practitioners while being PVC-free and (likely) relatively non-toxic.

All this said, if you have been coveting a Jade Mat, or even a Liforme or Manduka Pro mat, and not having the mat means you’re practicing yoga less, get the mat. After all, it is better for your health to practice yoga, even on a mat that may have some degree of undesirable environmental and health impact than it is to not practice and instead feel stressed and unhealthy through lack of exercise.

The team that tested the Jade mat and others, Ökotest, was looking for:

  • Nitrosamines – present in rubber vulcanized through the use of some accelerator chemicals
  • Formamide – found in yoga mats made of the foam rubber EVA
  • 2-phenyl-2 – a potential allergen used in plastics manufacturing
  • Toxic azo dyes – used to dye cotton and other fibers
  • Insecticides – found on the surface of virgin wool
  • Chlorides – used in the production of PVC.

Researchers were also looking for endocrine disruptors called nonylphenol ethoxylates which may be involved in the production of cotton and which enter waste water and damage aquatic organisms.

FPC™ – The future of eco-friendly yoga mats?

One exciting innovation in yoga mat material technology comes courtesy of a Taiwanese company called eTouch Innovation Inc. This company developed an eco-friendly material called Fiber Particulate Composite (FPC™) made mainly from agricultural waste. FPC™ contains fiber as its main ingredient, mixed with a proprietary Compatibilizer™ made from converted starch derived from rice waste products. FPC™ is made without adding any man-made chemicals and can be mixed with recycled plastics where it serves as a binder. This means FPC™ could be used to make textiles from recycled plastic rescued from the oceans and landfill. And, because the rice used in the product is waste from the food industry, it does not create competition for food sources and actually reduces air pollution (because the agricultural waste would otherwise be burned).

If a product is 100 percent FPC it is also 100 percent biodegradable and compostable, and as the material uses waste products, it creates a closed loop system that requires very little energy input to upcycle materials into new goods. This probably makes the FPC Yoga Mat designed by eTouch the world’s most eco-friendly yoga mat.

The FPC yoga mat is half natural rubber and half bio-composite material, which uses 100 percent natural ingredients mainly from agricultural by-products such as rice husk, rice straw, bamboo chips, and coffee residues, with no man-made chemical additives. The mat is similar to, if not better than, standard yoga mats for tensile strength, slippiness, durability, and weight. It is 100 percent recyclable, biodegradable, and bio-renewable, completely non-toxic and environmentally friendly, even after end-of-life. The mat also has the lowest carbon-footage for any yoga mat. The FPC yoga mat is manufactured in a reversible purple and gray design that is 4.5 mm thick and 71″ long, with a standard 24” and extra wide 26″ width. Unfortunately, the mat does not yet seem to be available to the public.

That was a pretty lengthy discussion of materials. So, without further ado, let’s look at the other important factors to consider when buying an eco-friendly yoga mat.

Thickness

Most standard yoga mats are 4-5 millimeters thick, while lighter travel yoga mats are around 3 mm or less. Thicker mats, which are great for beginners, those who love hatha yoga or do a lot of crescent lunges, and anyone who wants a little extra cushioning for their joints, can be some 6-9 mm thick. If elaborate balancing poses, or even a simple tree pose, are more your thing, a thicker mat can create undesirable instability, so you’ll probably want to opt for a thinner mat. Some travel mats are as thin as 1.5 mm, making them highly portable and giving you great connection to the ground, for extra stability.

Everyone’s sweet spot will be a little different for yoga mats, so it’s good to figure out your priorities and try a few out before committing to a specific mat. For most people, though, a standard thickness mat is a good compromise between heaviness, comfort, and stability.

Mat texture and stickiness

PVC mats tend to be smoother and provide good grip, while eco-friendly mats made with natural materials like jute can feel rougher on the skin. Stickiness helps keep you stable in your poses and when you transition between poses.

In general, PVC mats are best for stickiness, if they’re clean and dry. If you want to prioritize eco-friendliness but still want some traction, opt for a jute, rubber, or cotton mat that has been deliberately given a raised, tactile surface profile. These mats can help give you extra grip without the ‘stickiness’ of PVC. If you find textured mats distracting to your practice, consider an organic cotton or rubber mat without the textured surface.

Size matters

Standard yoga mats are 68 inches long. This means they easily accommodate someone who is around 5’8″. If you’re taller than that, you’re going to need to pay attention to mat length, so you’re not cramped. And, even if a standard mat fits you just fine, a longer mat can help you extend your practice by giving you extra flexibility to really dig into those lengthier poses.

To check if a mat is a good fit for you, make sure your whole body fits on the mat when lying down. Then check with a few of your longer poses.

Have yoga mat, will travel

If you like to do yoga on the go, when traveling, or walk or cycle to classes, you’ll want to consider the portability of your yoga mat. This may require some compromise, losing some thickness and comfort on the mat for added comfort and ease when schlepping the mat around. Lighter mats, ones that fold into a square instead of the bulky roll, and those with their own stylish carrying case are all good options if you place a high value on portability.

Price

Yoga mats range in price from cheap thin PVC that you’ll likely want to replace pretty regularly (making them more costly for you and for the environment in the long-run), to more costly higher quality yoga mats that can last for years if not decades. To reduce your environmental impact, it’s best to choose a mat that you both love and that will last you a long time.

How to clean your yoga mat

How regularly and how thoroughly you clean your yoga mat will depend on how often and how intensely you practice. For most people, cleaning your yoga mat once a week is enough to keep stains at bay and prevent build-up of bacteria and dirt. Following manufacturers’ guidelines is always best, but in generally it’s enough to use natural cleansers like lemon juice or dilute vinegar solution, or even dish soap, to clean your mat.

Between practices, be sure to wipe away any excess moisture and let your mat air dry before storing it away. Avoid putting the mat in direct sun or hot temperatures though as this can speed up degradation, whatever your mat is made of. PVC, rubber, TPE, and PER mats can become flaky, brittle, and extra toxic if exposed to high heat and direct sunlight.

Now you know what to look out for in terms of function and form, all that’s left to choose is your style of yoga mat. Happily, these days there’s more than just a choice between purple and blue PVC, as you’ll see in our ecoHome directory.

Other Yoga Mat Considerations

In addition to the environmental impact of the chemicals used to make many PVC yoga mats, these mats also have a considerable energy footprint and typically end up in a landfill once they wear out and get replaced.

Recycled materials are increasingly used in so-called eco-friendly yoga mats and accessories. Some companies, for instance, make their mats with recycled (synthetic) car tire rubber. Thankfully, the rubber is typically rinsed multiple times to get rid of the heavy metals. Unfortunately, though, companies rarely make public their manufacturing processes nor any test results showing what was in the rubber to begin with and what they’ve rinsed out. As such, some synthetic rubber mats have a car tire smell that lingers for weeks, or even months in some cases. Airing out these mats on a porch or deck (out of direct sunlight), is helpful for getting rid of the smell. It also helps to give them a good clean before using them the first time.

All in all, it’s good to be suspicious of ‘greenwashed’ products that incorporate recycled synthetic rubber or other materials unless the manufacturer is clear about the safety of the end product and provides third-party test results.

Yoga Mat Certifications

Yoga mats may be advertised as natural, green, and eco-friendly, but many such claims and labels are nothing but ‘greenwashing’. Companies can self-declare their products to be ‘natural’ and ‘green’ because these are not regulated terms in the US, unlike ‘organic’. Some companies add second-party certification to their product labels, but these are also insubstantial, given that they are ‘certified’ by manufacturers, trade or industry organizations with a vested interest in promoting the product.

When looking for truly eco-friendly products, third-party certification is incredibly helpful. Proper third-party certification means that a product is assessed by an independent body with no vested financial interest in the sale of any particular product, nor ties to the manufacturer or industry (aside from fees collected for impartial assessment).

Cradle to Cradle Certification

Cradle to Cradle is one of the best eco certification programs around but is yet to gain traction in the yoga mat industry. Cradle to Cradle is both independent and fairly robust, offering various levels of certification for mat materials. The Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute is a non-profit organization, making this a third-party certification program.

You can read more about the Cradle to Cradle Certified™ Product Standards here.

Cradle to Cradle demonstrate that good green credentials are not the only considerations when buying a yoga mat. Their ‘social fairness’ component means that you can rest assured that the mat where you practice mindfulness was not made using child labor or other exploitative working practices, for instance.

So far, just one company is claiming c2c certification, the Taiwanese company SJ Group, who are behind the innovative eco-friendly FPC™ material they’re calling Taifoam. Unfortunately, the link to their listing for the yoga mat isn’t live and there is no mention of this credential beyond the Taiwan C2C strategic alliance website.

Other Certifications

If you’re considering buying a rubber mat for yoga, look for QUL certification or ask the company about their materials. It is extremely difficult to differentiate between natural rubber latex and synthetic latex, which is a toxic petroleum-based product. Mats may be advertised as natural but may only contain a small amount of natural rubber.

The QUL seal was created in 1994 to protect the term ‘natural latex’ and help differentiate natural latex mattresses from those that feature synthetic latex. QUL (quality association for environmentally-agreeable latex mattresses e.V.) has been applied to a range of natural latex products since 1997 and certifies that products have been tested to ensure they are free from VOCs, heavy metals, pesticides, nitrosamines, and pentachlorophenol.

The seal of approval from the Fair Rubber Association may also begin making itself seen on yoga mats in due course (just one mat is currently certified: the Prolana mat). This certification expands the concept of Fair Trade to products made from natural rubber, with the Fair Rubber Association’s aim being to promote improvements in working and living conditions of those producing goods made from natural latex (rubber), and to promote environmentally friendly rubber production that is chemical-free. The Fair Rubber logo is reserved for products which fulfill the criteria of Fair Trade in natural rubber.

Products made and/or sold in Europe may carry kbA and/or kbT certifications. The former certifies that the product is made with organic cotton and the second translates roughly to ‘controlled organic livestock’, meaning that materials are sourced from suppliers using organic farming methods ‘optimally adapted to the climatic and living conditions of the region’ and using ‘species-appropriate animal husbandry in harmony with nature’ (R). The kbT certification means that no genetically modified foods or fattening aids are allowed in the rearing of animals, no forced reproduction of the animals is allowed, and practices such as tail docking or mulesing are prohibited. kbT virgin wool also has to be free from pesticides and insecticides, a practice that applies both to the animals and to the soil on which the animals graze.

Some yoga mats are certified to Oeko-Tex Standard 100 or, better yet, the Oeko-Tex Standard 1000. Oeko-Tex is a testing, auditing and certification system for environmentally-friendly production sites throughout the textile processing chain. The 100 standard requires that companies meet stipulated criteria for environmentally-friendly manufacturing processes. The Oeko-Tex Standard 1000 requires proof that the company meets additional social standards.

Some of the certification criteria for Oeko-Tex standards look at:

  • The use of environmentally-damaging chemicals, auxiliaries and dyestuffs
  • Compliance with standard values for waste water and exhaust air
  • Optimization of energy consumption
  • Avoidance of noise and dust pollution
  • Workplace safety measures
  • Child labor
  • Basic elements of an environmental management system
  • Existence of a quality management system.

As with many ecoHome products, smaller companies may not have the funds to cover the cost of certification. In such cases where independent certification is not available, you might want to ask for a formal statement signed by senior company officials (R).

What to do with old yoga mats

When it comes to the environmental impact of yoga mats, it’s not just your choice of a new mat that matters. Landfills are teeming with toxic yoga mats made from PVC, synthetic rubber, and other materials that leach chemicals into the soil and water supply. It’s important to note that the term ‘biodegradable’ is not regulated in the U.S., so instead of being a sign of eco-friendliness, it can simply mean that a material will degrade (eventually) into some other harmful chemicals when exposed to air and light.

Organic cotton, jute, natural rubber, and other natural plant-based materials are the best options for truly biodegradable, eco-friendly mats. And, as with every household product, before you even consider sending an old mat to landfill, think about ways to repurpose, upcycle, or recycle the mat.

You could donate your mat to a nearby retirement home as a non-slip surface for seniors, or to an animal shelter (where they always need such things to keep animals comfortable). Here are twelve top ideas for reusing your old mat at home:

  1. Repurpose your mat as a non-slip surface or padding for furniture, rugs, in the workshop, for next to the bed, in the bathroom, for play areas or for senior household members (human and non-human)
  2. Turn your mat into a seat liner for transporting muddy, hairy pups (or other potentially messy passengers) in the car
  3. Keep dog and cat food dishes or litter boxes in place and (relatively) tidy
  4. Line kitchen shelves or drawers to prevent scratching
  5. Make grip pads for easier jar opening
  6. Make knee protectors for gardening or custom-fit liners under house plants
  7. Take your mat to the beach or park for picnics, or as an extra sleeping layer when camping (mats also help keep things from rolling around in the trunk of your car)
  8. Cut up the mat to make bases for park or yard games, or as masks or props for dress-up time
  9. Cushion sharp corners in the house or garage
  10. Protect valuables when moving house
  11. Cut into squares for instant seat cushions at sports games or open-air theatre
  12. Use as cushioning between your roof rack and sports equipment (surfboard, canoes, kayak, etc.).

Now you know what to do with your old yoga mat, check out the ecoHome directory to find your new favorite mindful yoga mat.

Companies to Consider for Eco-Friendly Yoga Mats

Until eTouch Innovation Inc. get their FPC yoga mat on the market, the best eco-friendly options are likely the rubber/wool and cotton yoga mats available from Prolana and Green Earth, two European companies that, sadly, do not yet ship to the U.S. So, if you’re thinking about a European yoga retreat, this could be the perfect time to pick up a new mat.

Gurus Roots Yoga Mat is another good option. This high-performance mat is made from natural rubber and cork and appears to be very durable if properly cared for. As for a fully rubber mat, the Hugger Mugger Para Mat remains one of the best on the market, although we’d like to see some third-party testing and certification on this one. Similarly, the Manduka eKO is made with natural rubber but lacks any official, independently assessed, eco-credentials, despite many claims made by the company over their eco-friendliness.

And finally, if you’re really set on a PVC mat, go for the one made with Oeko-Tex certified, emissions-free manufacturing PVC: Manduka Pro. Even though this mat is made with PVC, it has a lifetime guarantee, which should help minimize the number of mats going to landfill and the number of mats being produced in the first place.

Leigh Matthews

Leigh Matthews, BA Hons, H.Dip. NT, is a health and wellness writer specializing in plant-based nutrition. A long-time vegan, Leigh is interested in nutriepigenetics, diet as preventative medicine, and the politics of food justice.

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