This is How Long Your Yoga Mat Will Take to Decompose
As you might already know, Yoga started around 5,000 years ago in Northern India.
Back then, they didn’t use mats for their practices; yoga and meditation were practiced directly on the ground.
As this practice developed, and became more active and complex, yogis began to require a surface that would not only protect their bodies, but also keep their hands and feet from slipping around, in order to benefit fully from their practice and prevent injuries.
These surfaces have developed greatly over the years to form the yoga mat as we know it today- starting from animal pelts to cotton fabrics to the ubiquitous plastic mat.
If you’ve spent some time exploring our blog, then you’re probably familiar with the concept that these plastic yoga mats are bad for the environment. That’s because many of the most common materials used to make yoga mats are not biodegradable, or even recyclable.
This means that most yoga mats end up in landfills, taking lifetimes (if ever!) to decompose.
What are the different materials used to make yoga mats?
Let’s have a look at some of the most common materials used to make yoga mats:
- Plastic: Plastic is the most commonly used material in yoga mats, with PVC plastic making up the majority of these.
- Rubber: Rubber, or latex, is another common material used to make yoga mats. This material comes from rubber trees, however there are also synthetic rubber alternatives.
- Jute: Jute is a sustainable alternative for yoga mats, although they are not very common.
- Cork: Cork yoga mats are growing in popularity due to their sustainability and quality.
How long do Plastic Yoga Mats take to decompose?
As previously mentioned, most conventional yoga mats are made of plastic.
There are many different forms of plastic (such as EVA or polyurethane), but PVC (polyvinyl chloride) is the most common. Additionally, it’s the most difficult to recycle.
In fact, the majority of PVC products are not recycled at all, meaning they’re sent to landfills or burnt.
However, this is problematic because PVC has been proven to release toxins called dioxins, which are highly harmful to humans and the environment.
Decomposition time: It can take anywhere between 20- 500 years for plastic to decompose in landfills, with PVC materials landing on the upper end of this spectrum. However, unlike natural materials, plastic doesn't decompose back into organic matter. Rather, it breaks down into micro-plastics that end up in our soils, waters, airways, and even inside our own bodies.
How long do Rubber Yoga Mats take to decompose?
Rubber can be natural (derived from the rubber tree, also known as latex), or synthetic (man-made and often derived from petroleum).
Natural rubber is easily biodegradable, while synthetic rubber takes longer to decompose. Both rubbers are recyclable though, and can be repurposed in many ways, including yoga mats.
In fact, many rubber based products are made from recycled rubber tires. However, most tires are made of mostly of synthetic rubber, and have also been found to contain chemicals like mercury, benzene, styrene-butadiene, arsenic and heavy metals. Not only do these additives make the material more difficult to decompose, but it means that burning rubber releases highly toxic byproducts.
Decomposition time: Depending on the thickness, natural rubber can take up to 80 years to decompose. Synthetic rubber, on the other hand, can take hundreds of years, with tires taking an estimated 2,000 years to decompose.
How long do Jute Yoga Mats take to decompose?
Jute is a very strong natural fiber. You’ve probably seen it before in ropes or coffee bean bags. It’s now being used to make yoga mats.
Sounds sustainable, right?
Unfortunately, most jute yoga mats are basically just plastic with some jute fabric weaved in or added on top.
That’s because a 100% pure jute yoga mat wouldn’t be practical for a yoga practice since it would be flimsy, unsupportive, and frankly, uncomfortable.
Decomposition time: Jute itself takes only 1-2 years to decompose. However since most jute yoga mats contain mostly plastic, they can take anywhere from 20 to 500 years.
How long do Cork Yoga Mats take to decompose?
Unlike any of the materials referenced so far, this one actually is sustainable and eco-friendly!
Cork will most likely come from one of these two sources: recycled cork or harvested bark. This makes cork a natural, biodegradable and renewable resource. Our cork yoga mats are made from premium quality, harvested Portuguese cork.
You might be wondering, how can cork be comfortable to practice on?
To give it the extra support it needs, a backing is added to the cork layer. This backing can be plastic or rubber.
Unlike most cork yoga mats on the market, Gecko Cork Yoga Mats use a backing made from an environmentally friendly form of rubber called EPDM. In fact, ethylene - one of the key raw materials of EPDM - is derived from sugarcane! Not only is the material fully recyclable, it contains no toxic substances, meaning it won’t leach in landfills and it’s even safe to burn in controlled environments.
Decomposition time: Cork takes around 3-10 years to fully biodegrade. Depending on what the backing is made of, the decomposition time of the entire yoga mat can range greatly. However, when possible, the best choice is to reuse or recycle.
P.S - Keep in mind that no trees were harmed during this process, the layers of the tree bark are stripped off. No cutting down trees here, yogi!
What does the decomposition of these materials really mean?
As we touched earlier in this article, plastics never fully decompose. That is why they are considered non-biodegradable materials. For that reason, we have been seeing a growth of plastic accumulation everywhere over the years.
According to Statista
“The total global production volume of polyvinyl chloride (or PVC for short (…)) in 2018 amounted to 44.3 million metric tons. It is forecasted that the global market size of PVC will grow to nearly 60 million metric tons in 2025.”
While we can’t easily “get rid” of the plastic that already exists, we can help slow down plastic production in the future by reducing our dependence and demand for these synthetic materials.
The best place to start is by opting for more environmentally friendly alternatives and making more conscious, sustainable decisions in our daily lives.
An eco-friendly, cork yoga mat is a fantastic place to start. After all, our yoga practice is meant to raise the vibration of the planet, not harm it.
What to do instead of throwing your yoga mat away?
Ready for a new yoga mat, but not sure what to do with your old one? There’s a lot more you can do with your old yoga mats than sending them to the landfill.Check out this article on creative ways to repurpose your old yoga mats!