Not to ruin your Savasana (Corpse Pose), but close to 40 percent of the thousands of yoga mats bought each year are made out of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a synthetic plastic polymer that can take more than 500 years to break down. While natural rubber is a better choice, it can still take 80 years to become one with the earth again. Here, the footprint of that natural rubber yoga mat—plus ways to green your usage.
The material of your mat begins with a thick, milky-white, latex sap, harvested by making thin, diagonal incisions in the bark of rubber trees. Tip: Look for an FSC-certified designation on your mat—a sign from the Forest Stewardship Council that materials are taken from a sustainably managed forest.
Latex is processed into rubber by adding formic acid to the sap. Then materials are heated, rolled, and cut into the classic rectangular shape most yoga mats assume.
Cooler, a company that neutralizes carbon footprints (including this magazine’s), calculates that a cargo truck carrying 200 mats from Chicago to LA releases more than 320 pounds of CO2e, or carbon dioxide equivalent, into the atmosphere—comparable to burning 176 pounds of coal.
Proper cleaning can extend a mat’s lifespan beyond the average of five years. But store-bought cleansers can damage natural rubber mats—plus they often come in plastic bottles and create their own CO2 emissions because of manufacturing and shipping processes. The fix? A DIY solution: Mix three parts distilled water with one part white vinegar in a reusable glass bottle. Spritz your mat after every use.
Get creative! Donate old mats to an animal shelter to use for bedding, or cut them up (they make great knee pads for gardening or foot pads on furniture). You can also request a Zero Waste Box from TerraCycle, a company that upcycles and recycles sports equipment, including mats, blocks, and straps. If you buy a new mat from Manduka, send them the old one (for $10 they’ll recycle any brand’s mat).