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HomeYogaLifestyleGreenwashing in the Yoga Mat Industry

Greenwashing in the Yoga Mat Industry

Searching online or visit your local yoga studio and you’ve probably seen a number of claims about the environmental benefits of yoga mats. As an eco-conscious yogi I like to try and minimise my environmental impact in any way I can and support brands that align with my sustainable philosophy. However, all is not as it seems in the world of yoga and healthy dose of skepticism is needed when evaluating product claims as companies realise that slapping an eco-friendly label on a mat will appeal to eco-minded yogis.

In this blog we’ll take a look at some examples of greenwashing in the yoga industry and discuss how to research and verify claims about environmental impact of yoga mats so you can buy with confidence and support the truely sustainable companies out there making a difference while identifying deceptive greenwashing tactics.

Although dominated by the big players such as Jade Yoga, Alo Yoga, Luluemon the market for yoga mats has exploded in recent years with a number of smaller brands entering the market. A cursory search online reveals thousands of mats marketed as eco-friendly, but upon closer examination, these mats may not be as sustainable as the brands claim. For example, a recent study conducted by the nonprofit organization Ecology Center found some yoga mats marketed as eco-friendly were made of materials that present environmental and human health hazards.

Findings of the study into 11 yoga mat brands include:

– Yoga mats labeled PER, Polymer Environmental Resin, were made of vinyl (PVC), a material that causes the release of toxic and persistent chemicals during manufacture and disposal.

– A yoga mat advertised as “organic jute and PER” was made mostly of PVC with a single layer of jute.

– The yoga mats made of PVC contained the plasticiser DOTP, a substitute for phthalates that is likely safer but needs more research.

– A yoga mat made of recycled wetsuits contained phthalates, a hazardous class of plasticisers.

Let’s take a look at the most popular types of yoga mat and the materials used in their construction. Although it’s important to note one of the most insidious aspects of greenwashing is the incorrect labelling of materials, such as PVC sold as PER or the blanket “no phthalates” statement seen on many sites making it impossible for consumers to make educated buying decisions.

Natural Rubber

Natural rubber mats are popular, rubber will biodegrade completely and they provide a naturally non-slip surface. For natural rubber the issue isn’t with the material rather it’s with where the rubber is sourced. The rubber tree is a tropical plant that is grown mainly in Southeast Asia, West Africa, and South America, it is a fast-growing, renewable resource that can be harvested without causing significant damage to the environment.

The rubber tree is an important source of income for many smallholder farmers, and its cultivation can support local communities and economies. However, it is important to consider the entire life cycle of the rubber tree and the methods used in its cultivation to ensure its sustainability.

For example, natural rubber can be considered sustainable if it is grown on small, family-owned farms that use sustainable agricultural practices, such as agroforestry and crop rotation. On the other hand, if rubber trees are grown on a large scale and with intensive monoculture practices, it can lead to the destruction of natural habitats, loss of biodiversity, and the use of harmful pesticides and fertilisers.

We see a lot of natural rubber mats that are topped with microfibre suede, a popular choice as it allows the top to be printed with different designs. Unfortunately, the microfibre used is a blend of polyester and polyamide (nylon) and although often sourced from recycled consumer PET materials it’s inorganic and won’t biograde and makes recycling the mat difficult.

Claim microfibre is 100% biodegradable

Overall natural rubber is one of the best eco-friendly materials for yoga mats.

Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)

PVC (polyvinyl chloride) is a contender for the most toxic material used in yoga mats. From start to finish, PVC is a toxic problem. Manufacturing creates contamination while using releases dangerous chemicals into the environment and disposal can linger for centuries without decomposing- not to mention it cannot be recycled! The effects of this material are far reaching and long lasting – making it one of our biggest challenges.

Eco-Friendly PVC???

To give them their flex PVC mats contain phthalates, known endocrine disruptors, which means they can interfere with the body’s endocrine system and disrupt the normal functioning of hormones. Studies have suggested that exposure to phthalates may be linked to a number of health problems, including reproductive and developmental issues, asthma, and allergies.

It’s safe to say that PVC mats should be avoided at all costs.

Thermoplastic Elastomers (TPE)

TPE (thermoplastic elastomers) is a type of plastic that is often marketed as a more eco-friendly alternative to traditional plastics and certainly to PVC. TPE is a versatile material that can be used in a wide range of applications, including toys, automotive parts, and yoga mats.

“Eco-Friendly” TPE

TPE is often made from a combination of plastic and rubber, and can be recycled or repurposed more easily than traditional plastics. It is also generally considered to be safer for human health and the environment than traditional plastics although, like with PVC, phthalates are added to TPE to make it more flexible. Some TPEs are also biodegradable and compostable.

However, it is important to note that not all TPEs are created equal. It is important to check the ingredients and certifications of the product to ensure that it is truly eco-friendly. Some TPEs are made from synthetic materials and may not be biodegradable or compostable, and some TPEs may still contain harmful chemicals.

Better than PVC but still a fossil fuel plastic, if you’re looking for an eco-friendly yoga mat our advise would be to look elsewhere.

Polymer Environmental Resin (PER)

Polymer Environmental Resin, also known as PER, is a type of plastic made that is marketed as a more sustainable alternative to traditional petroleum-based plastic such as PVC. However, reading the patent application for PER we can see that PER is actually made from PVC, the difference being in the type of plasticiser used.

On the plus side PER is said to be biodegradable and compostable, which means that it will break down in the environment over time, unlike traditional plastic which can take hundreds of years to decompose.

However, there are a few negatives such as the environmental impact of the manufacturing process itself and the potential production of microplastics during decomposition as well as the lack of infrastructure for composting or recycling meaning many mats end up in landfills.

A fairly new alternative to PVC, PER is produced by one company in Taiwan and although it has achieved Oeko-Tex certification there hasn’t been enough research into it’s long term impact. File this one in the, “maybe” bucket.

Polyurethane (PU)

Polyurethane, is a synthetic material that is used in a wide variety of products, such as furniture, clothing, footwear, and yoga mats. It is a versatile and durable material made from non-renewable fossil fuels, specifically petrochemicals. The production of PU generates greenhouse gas emissions and pollutants and PU does not decompose. Even worse, once disposed of PU can release harmful pollutants, making it difficult to manage it’s waste.

PU eco-friendly?

Cork

Cork is a natural and sustainable material that can be considered a good alternative to traditional materials like PVC and TPE. Cork is obtained from the bark of the cork oak tree, and it can be harvested without harming the tree, the cork oak can live up to 200 years and can be harvested every 9-12 years. The cork oak forests also provide important ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration, biodiversity conservation, and water regulation.

Eco TPE?

However cork is used mostly as a topper in yoga mats so it’s important to know what’s underneath. Cork is biodegradable so a bottom layer of natural rubber make a perfect bio-degradable combination while TPE or even PER on the other hand would mean a nondegrable mat. The sustainability of cork products can also be affected by the way it is harvested, the use of chemicals, and the way it is transported.

Cork and natural rubber are a great combination but make sure you understand the backing material before purchasing.

Jute

Jute is a natural, renewable, and biodegradable material that can be considered sustainable in certain circumstances. Jute is a type of plant fiber that is obtained from the stem of the jute plant, mainly grown in India, Bangladesh and China. The plant is a fast-growing crop that can be harvested within 4-6 months of planting, and it requires less water and fertilisers than other fiber crops. Jute fiber is also a low-cost alternative to synthetic materials, which makes it accessible to farmers and industries in developing countries.

Jute is biodegradable, however, like any crop, the sustainability of jute depends on the way it is grown, harvested, and processed. Monoculture practices and the use of pesticides and fertilisers during cultivation can have a negative impact on the environment.

Like Microfibre most Jute mats are combined with other materials such as natural rubber, PVC, TPE or PER. It’s important to take that backing material into consideration when looking at how eco-friendly a jute yoga mat is.

As we’ve seen the materials used play a huge part in the sustainability of each yoga mat, however, it doesn’t stop there. It’s crucial that you understand not only the materials used in the manufacture of the mat but the sourcing of the materials and the manufacturing process itself.

So how do we as consumers buy with confidence?

It’s important to note that greenwashing can be subtle and hard to spot, so it’s always best to do some research on a brand or product before making any assumptions about its environmental impact. Don’t take the marketing at face value!

There are a few ways to determine if a brand is truly sustainable or not. Firstly, look for certifications: Certifications such as USDA Organic, Fair Trade, and Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) are a good indication that a company’s products have been certified as being sustainably produced. It’s important to note that not all certifications are created equal, and some certifications may be easier to obtain (read pay for) than others. It’s always a good idea to research the certification and the organization behind it to get a better understanding of it’s value.

Secondly, research the company. Look for information about the company’s environmental policies, practices, and impact. Some companies have sustainability reports that are publicly available and truly sustainable company should be transparent about its practices and willing to share information about its environmental impact.

Thirdly, check if they are members of any sustainability organisations or initiatives such as B Corp. Many sustainability organisations have a membership program, and by being part of them, companies are committing to certain standards and practices.

Lastly, ask questions! If you have any doubts, don’t hesitate to contact the company and ask them about their sustainability practices. A company that is truly sustainable should be happy to provide you with the information you need to make an informed decision.

It’s worth noting that there is no single standard for sustainability, and no company can be completely sustainable. But by looking for certifications, researching the company, and looking for transparency, you can get a better idea of how committed a company is to sustainability.

Understanding the materials used, the manufacturing process and commitment to sustainability of the brand are all essential steps in making informed buying decisions.

Being a conscious consumer means being aware of the impact of your purchasing decisions on the environment, society, and economy. It involves considering the entire life cycle of a product, from sourcing of raw materials to production, use, and disposal. By being a conscious consumer, you can make more informed decisions about the products you buy and the companies you support, and ultimately, help to create a more sustainable and equitable world.

It starts with one single step

All you need is one push in the right direction to begin your eco-friendly journey. Start today, impact tomorrow, and the future generation. The planet is yours, ours, and we need to take care of it. Every action has a ripple effect. The way you act also impacts your peers. So behave eco-friendly, and you invite eco-friendly people into your life.

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