It’s estimated that 36 million Americans practice yoga, with the number growing every year. While yoga has been scientifically proven to better our health (both physical and mental!), there’s one major issue: most of the mats we do downward facing dogs on every day are made from PVC, aka polyvinyl chloride.
If you’ve ever noticed that your mat has a not-so-pleasant chemical smell, PVC is likely to thank. Aside from its odor distracting you during your flow, it’s also one of the most harmful materials to our health and the environment. So much so that it’s been banned in some children’s products and toys in the United States.
So, what’s the problem with PVC? And what should you be looking for instead? Here’s everything you should know before shopping for new yoga gear. Plus, the best eco-friendly yoga mat materials to opt for instead.
The Problem with Yoga Mats Made from PVC
Most yoga mats are made from PVC. It’s beloved in the fitness world because it provides good “give” or “sponginess” during your practice, but the petroleum-based material is a toxic type of plastic—not only to the planet but also to your health.
PVC is a major source of phthalates, which have been linked to birth defects, hormone disruption, asthma, cancer, and other health issues. When doing yoga, toxins can be inhaled, as well as absorbed through your skin. As for the planet, its entire lifecycle—including production, use, and disposal—releases toxic chemicals into the environment.
Another issue with PVC is its recyclability. After a yoga mat is worn out, it’s incredibly difficult to recycle. Because of that, it often winds up in landfills where it continues to do damage, releasing harmful toxins into the air and soil.
Considering yoga is a practice that’s supposed to better your health and well-being, going about your morning flow on a mat made from PVC doesn’t really mesh. Luckily, there are plenty of eco-friendly yoga mat options made from materials that won’t cause harm to you or the environment.
The Best Eco-Friendly Yoga Mat Materials
Keep an eye out for these sustainable materials when searching for an eco-friendly yoga mat.
Our Pick: Chakras Travel Cork Yoga Mat
Cork is one of the most sustainable materials around: it’s renewable, recyclable, and biodegradable. There are also plenty of perks to opting for a cork yoga mat: Aside from being eco-friendly, it’s also lightweight, antimicrobial, odor-free, and non-slip. That means you’ll still be able to get a great grip, even in the sweatiest hot yoga classes.
2. Natural Rubber
Our Pick: Manduka Eko Lite Yoga Mat
Sustainably-harvested natural rubber is a great pick for an eco-friendly yoga mat because it’s non-toxic, perfectly cushioned, and biodegradable. It’s also naturally grippy, allowing you to do all of your favorite poses with ease.
3. Recycled Materials
Our Pick: SugaMat Recycled Wetsuit Yoga Mat
These days, you can find plenty of yoga mats made from recycled materials. This one, for instance, offers more thickness (and cushion!) than traditional yoga mats due to being made from recycled wetsuits. You can also find yoga mats made from recycled PET bottles.
4. Organic Cotton
Our Pick: Jade Yoga Organic Cotton Yoga Rug
Organic cotton—which uses 91% less water than non-organic cotton—isn’t just a staple in sustainable clothing and bedding. It’s also perfect for yoga mats. This one is handwoven by artisans in India and gets its color from all-natural vegetable dyes.
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