The Most Healthy & Sustainable Materials for Yoga Mats, Yoga Blocks & Yoga Gear 

Ultimate guide ​​of sustainable materials for yoga mats and gear

What is the environmental impact of yoga mats, yoga blocks, yoga clothing based on the materials used? What is most sustainable and healthier for your practice? We dig deep deep into this detailed guide!

Could the mat beneath your feet damage the earth on which it lies? In many cases, the answer is yes — unless you specifically seek sustainable materials for yoga mats and gear. 

The good news is that yoga continues to grow in popularity, benefitting individual practitioners with improved physical and mental health. The lessons learned on the mat extend into the greater world — which includes mindfully considering the effect of your practice on the environment. 

Fortunately, once you know what they are, it isn’t hard to recognize the best materials for eco-friendly yoga mats and other products. Here’s how to choose sustainable gear for your practice. 

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Microplastics and Mindfulness? 

Many yogis consider their practice a highly sustainable way to relax, and it is — especially compared to going for a drive in a car that burns fossil fuels. However, the plastic used in mats and other gear presents issues. Consider the following scary statistics about microplastics and the environment: 

  • Humans consume roughly 40 pounds of plastic over their lifetime. While doctors don’t yet understand all the health ramifications, there’s evidence it may increase diabetes risk, damage your liver and other vital organs and disrupt fat metabolism. 
  • 100% of the mussels tested contained microplastics. Plastic pollution kills a million marine mammals each year, and there may be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050. 
  • The average American uses 156 plastic bottles per year and recycles less than 9%. 
  • 90% of plastic comes from fossil fuels, and 50% is single-use.

According to the World Health Organization, climate change claims 250,000 lives each year. That figure fails to reflect the suffering that millions more endure. The effects of pollution and extreme weather shifts hit the most vulnerable populations more acutely, and they often lack resources to relocate or combat the impact on their health and well-being. 

One of the eight limbs of yoga is the yamas or moral discipline, the first of which is ahimsa or the absence of harmful intention. When viewed in this light, choosing sustainable materials for yoga mats is a crucial part of your overall practice, extending it beyond physical postures into the spiritual and ethical realms. 

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Sustainable Materials for Yoga Mats 

What makes a yoga mat or any product sustainable? Several factors play a role. 

First, you must consider the product’s life cycle. What happens to worn mats, for example? All too often, they end up in landfills. However, some companies, such as Manduka and Hejhej-mats, offer buy-back programs, sending you a return box when it’s time for a replacement to facilitate recycling the material.

While biodegradability matters, so does recycling. Organic materials don’t break down properly in landfill conditions, instead contributing to methane emissions — a greenhouse gas far heavier than carbon.

The Problems With PVC and TPE 

Many yoga mats contain one of two plastic-based substances — PVC or TPE. The problem is that many recycling centers don’t handle these materials. Recycling is a business, and many facilities lack the necessary resources due to low cost-effectiveness. While TPE is theoretically easier to recycle than PVC, as you can melt it down thanks to the absence of chlorine, such processing still isn’t available in many locations. 

As a result, even well-intended yogis may have no option but to dispose of old mats in the regular garbage — unless they choose a sustainable material or purchase from a company that handles the product’s lifecycle from start to finish. 

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What Is the Best Material for an Eco-Friendly Yoga Mat if Plastic Is Out?

Here are six of the best materials for an eco-friendly yoga mat to seek when purchasing your gear. 

1. Cork

Shel Silverstein may or may not have had cork in mind when he wrote “The Giving Tree,” but this plant deserves the nickname. Cork benefits humanity and sustainability in several ways. One, harvesting the usable bark doesn’t require chopping down or harming the tree in any way, as long as farmers follow best practices. 

Furthermore, cork trees trap carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas contributing to climate change, while releasing fresh oxygen. One forest in Portugal alone has sequestered 4.8 million tons of the gas. One study suggests that producing 350,000 tons of cork will fix 182,000 tons of C02.

Natural cork goes into the compost bin at the end of its life cycle, bringing new life to your garden. Shredding it helps it break down more quickly. It’s also recyclable, although it shouldn’t go in your municipal container. Sending it to a dedicated cork recycling center transforms it into coasters, bulletin boards or even shoes. 

2. Rubber

Maybe the tiny little ant in the old song was trying to move that rubber tree plant to make a sustainable yoga mat. Rubber is a natural, renewable resource when farmers use sustainable harvesting techniques. Unfortunately, rubber tree plantations also contribute to deforestation and habitat loss in vulnerable areas, so do your research before selecting this material by default. 

Although natural rubber is biodegradable, many are vulcanized or blended with synthetics to increase their strength — at the expense of their breakdown ability. However, many plants recycle this material, and some sustainable yoga gear manufacturers use reclaimed rubber in their mats. 

3. Jute

Jute is a natural fiber. Better yet, it comes from a plant that requires little water or treatments like pesticides to grow. It’s biodegradable and has a low overall carbon footprint — its lightweight nature makes transportation slightly less hard on the environment. 

Jute is naturally moth-resistant and goes easy on those with skin allergies. However, it’s notoriously tricky to clean and can rot or become damaged when wet or exposed to chemicals. It’s often blended with other materials when creating yoga mats, such as We’ar’s line, which embeds it in rubber. Gaiam and Affirmats also offer jute and jute-blend mats.

4. Cotton 

Some yogis prefer little between themselves and the earth except for cloth to keep off the worst of the dirt and bugs. If you’re among them, cotton is a sustainable material for your next yoga mat or rug. Organic cotton is pesticide-free, durable, breathable and hypoallergenic. It also absorbs sweat like a dream, making it a must for hot yoga enthusiasts. 

Cotton is also machine washable, although hand washing is the gentler option. Although cotton is sustainable, pilling, rips and tears can frustrate yogis, making them repurpose their rugs more often. However, seeking a blend of cotton with hemp or jute increases the hardiness of this choice. 

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5. Hemp 

Hemp is a bit of a wonder plant. It can transform into a substance that’s tough, like concrete or soft, like a yoga rug. It also grows far more quickly than trees. Its strong fibers produce a mat with superior durability. 

Many sustainable yoga rugs contain a blend of organic cotton, jute and hemp. The right combination creates the desired thickness while preserving a soft texture that makes holding long, passive yin or restorative poses more comfortable. 

6. Plant-Based Foam

In an effort to phase out fossil fuel-based plastics, many manufacturers have begun to experiment with various plant-based alternatives. Some formulations stem from other recycled materials, such as cardboard and household paper, which may otherwise end up in landfills. 

Please keep in mind that plant-based foams may not biodegrade and can present the same cost-effectiveness issues as recycling regular plastic. Therefore, pay attention to your mat’s lifecycle and prefer companies that offer a recycling program. 

Other Factors Influencing Sustainability

Factors beyond the materials chosen and the lifecycle of your mat also influence its overall sustainability. Yoga teaches that everything is interconnected, a reality that plays out during manufacturing and production. 

The human factor is perhaps the most overlooked sustainability factor. People run production lines, and their competencies and attitudes reveal themselves in the care they take in their work. Fairtrade practices ensure that everyone involved in production, from farmers to the assembly line, receives living wages and safe working conditions in exchange for their contributions. Seek products bearing international marks to indicate the manufacturer’s participation.

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Recycled Mats — and How to Recycle Your Old Mat 

What can you do if it’s time to replace your mat but your local sorting center doesn’t accept the material? You have a few choices. 

Some organizations, such as Terracycle in the U.S. and Europe’s Continuum Collective Second Flow Initiative, allow you to mail in your mat for recycling. Pro-tip: If choosing this route, recycle with a friend to cut down on shipping emissions. 

Additionally, companies like Australia’s LoveEarth and Manduka let you request a mail-in label for your old mat. They then handle the recycling for you. 

Finally, there’s the donation or repurposing route. Gently used mats are small boons for after-school programs, community and youth centers and shelters that use yoga as an adjunct to other therapies. They also make great drawer liners when cut to the correct size and fold into the perfect cushion for kneeling in the garden. 

Sustainable Materials for Yoga Clothing 

Plastic pollution doesn’t only come from yoga mats. It’s embedded in gear and even your clothing.

Fortunately, many of the best materials for eco-friendly yoga mats also appear in blocks, straps and bolsters — more on that in a minute. Many popular fabrics used in yoga clothing, though, contain plastic. For example, the following fabrics can shed microplastics when washed, contributing to rising pollution levels: 

  • Polyester
  • Nylon: Frequently found in athletic wear for its strength and elasticity.
  • Acrylic
  • Polypropylene: Known for its sweat-wicking properties. 
  • Spandex, Lycra or Elastine: Provides stretch and elasticity to athletic gear.
  • Fleece
  • Rayon
  • Synthetic velvet 

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What fabrics should you choose instead? Natural fibers biodegrade and often offer similar properties to synthetic blends. For example, hikers cherish merino wool for its sweat-wicking properties and superior warmth. Yoga pants hybrids designed to go from the office to the mat often contain this material. Other options include the following: 

1. Hemp 

Hemp transforms into gloriously soft, antimicrobial, hypoallergenic and breathable fabric. It also absorbs moisture well. 

2. Organic Cotton 

Organic cotton is soft and hypoallergenic. It’s also low friction, reducing the chance that your clothes rub you in uncomfortable ways. 

3. Recycled Polyester

Recycled polyester encourages closed-loop recycling systems. It’s also moisture-wicking, quick-drying, stretchy and flexible, making it ideal for yoga gear that contours to your body’s shape. 

4. Tencel/Lyocell

Made from the wood pulp of beech and eucalyptus trees, this sustainable fabric encourages closed-loop recycling while being biodegradable. It’s moisture-wicking, reduces chafing and is flexible enough to fit your form perfectly. 

Many manufacturers use blends of various sustainable materials. For example, Prana relies on organic cotton, wool, recycled polyester and hemp, and Tripulse uses Tencel with Roica® V550 stretch. 

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Sustainable Materials for Yoga Gear 

Many of the same sustainable materials for yoga mats also go into their gear. However, there are a few additions you can explore when stocking your collection. 

1. Blocks

Cork is an excellent material for yoga blocks. Bamboo is another sustainable option, as some species of this plant grow nearly three feet in a single day. Hugger Mugger is one such manufacturer offering satiny smooth blocks to enhance your practice. 

2. Straps 

Hemp, jute, bamboo and organic cotton fibers are all excellent choices for yoga straps. Many contain a blend, allowing you to choose the right balance of toughness and softness. 

3. Bolsters

Although some manufacturers use various plastic-based foams in their bolsters, seek those containing buckwheat. This natural plant material offers sufficient firmness yet remains softer than hard blocks, making it ideal for holding long restorative poses. 

4. Towels

Here, too, natural fibers reign supreme. Organic cotton is often the best choice for its superior absorbent properties — like your thirstiest bath towel. 

5. Refillable Water Bottles

Don’t let your daily yoga class contribute toward your annual plastic bottle count. Investing in a reusable bottle matters. However, plastic versions can leach chemicals like BPA that have questionable impacts on your health and that of the planet. Instead, stick with steel versions, such as the Yeti line. Steel is an infinitely recyclable material, and its high cash value means it rarely ends up in landfills. 

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Healthy and Sustainable Yoga Materials 

Your practice enhances your life physically, mentally and spiritually. Part of the process of self-development entails growing awareness of how your choices impact the planet and all who live upon it. Choosing sustainable materials for yoga mats and gear embraces the yamas and demonstrates ahimsa, your intent to do no harm. 

When building your collection, seek these best materials for eco-friendly yoga mats and more, and use the available resources for recycling or repurposing your old gear. You’ll feel better every time you take to the mat with a clean conscience and honor your connection to all of creation.

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Beth Rush

Beth Rush is the green wellness editor at Body+Mind, a health and wellness brand. She covers topics like sustainable healthcare and all the ways human health is inextricably linked to planetary health. Beth is raising her own family on plant-based recipes and mindful nutrition. You can find Beth on Twitter @bodymindmag.

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