Greenwashing is an attempt to capitalise on the growing demand for products that are environmentally friendly by conveying a false impression that a company or its products are sustainable. There are almost no regulations around using terms like ‘eco-friendly’, and many brands use them freely without consequence. Yoga mats are a case in point. There is an almost inherent assumption that a yoga mat would be environmentally friendly because, well, it's a yoga mat.
At Second Earth we make a commitment to the planet with each and every mat we produce. 100% sustainability, 100% eco-friendly, 100% non-toxic, ethically sourced material, amazing durability, carbon neutral delivery. We got here after years of research and if you are a yoga novice or a long term enthusiast, I wanted to share what we learned about mats along the way - and why we sell the mats we do.
Many of the most commonly sold mats are PVC. Polyvinyl Chloride. This means that while they might be cheap to buy, they are not cheap for the environment as they are made from fossil fuels, are plastic and don't break down.
PVC mats are made by softening hard plastic, using phthalates. Phthalates are a known endocrine disruptor and over time, especially in warmer temperatures, such as a hot yoga studio, these phthalates leach, migrate or evaporate into the air indoors. This happens of course while you are in constant contact with them, innocently practicing yoga on your PVC mat. (Phthalates can interfere with the body and produce adverse developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune effects in both humans and wildlife.)
Given how bad PVC is for both people and the planet, manufacturers have developed some cheap alternatives which they market as ‘eco-friendly’. The most common ones being Polymer Environmental Resin (PER) and TPE (Thermoplastic Elastomer). Both of these products are essentially fossil fuel plastics and in the case of TPE, there is a real lack of transparency around the materials.
Natural rubber mats are a good alternative mat. They are completely biodegradable. They are also grippy, dense and have decent weight meaning they won’t slide around. To make these mats, natural rubber is extracted from rubber trees through a process known as tapping. Tapping involves making a small cut to remove a slither of the tree’s bark and then using a container to catch the fluid that runs out. This fluid is the trees sap, which is called latex.
Natural sulphur, which is found naturally in places like hot springs and volcanic regions, is used to vulcanise or harden the natural rubber to make it useable as a yoga mat. When considering a natural rubber mat be sure to look out for brands that sustainably source their natural rubber from natural rubber tree farms and not from tropical rainforests or Amazon forests.
Cork comes from the bark of the Cork Oak Tree. It can be harvested sustainably from cork farms by stripping bark off the tree without damaging the tree itself. The bark starts to regenerate straight away and can be harvested every 9 years.
Cork trees can live for over 200 years and have an amazing ability to store a huge amount of carbon. Stripping the bark periodically enhances the tree’s ability to absorb carbon and therefore the Cork Oak Tree plays a pivotal role in reducing greenhouse gasses. Cork has several great features like being extremely durable, buoyant, grippy and has natural antibacterial properties just to name a few. When looking for a cork mat try to find one with a natural rubber backing. Some brands use cheaper options like PER or TPE as the backing for their cork mats but as noted above these materials are not great.
Jute is extremely strong and biodegradable. But one of the best things about jute is that it has the most eco-friendly production process compared to any other fabric. It doesn’t require any fertilizers or pesticides when processing and uses far less water to produce. Plain jute mats however don’t offer a huge amount of support and cushioning so it’s often used with other materials to create a softer mat. Its best to look out for mats that combine jute with natural rubber (rather than PER or TPE) to make a sustainable, grippy and biodegradable mat.