Wednesday, June 24, 2009

My Mat is Made from Copolymers and Monomers

Yoga mats... out of all the "stuff" that you can get for yoga, really as long as you have your mat (for physical practice) you are good to go. Enter; Eco-Yoga Machine... and then all of a sudden you are SWAMPED with "green" and "eco" options. (a baby toad I found last summer, Andrew insisted that this is the picture I post...)

How to make a choice?? Since squishing my face into my mat (i.e. what I look like hovering in an attempted chaturanga... lol) happens when I practice, I would prefer if it didn't have lots of yummy toxic chemicals for my lungs to peruse. Also, eventually I will be old and brittle (and cranky!- well, unless I'll be one of those wild and who gives a f* grannies! WOOT) and my mat will have to retire. I'd prefer if it didn't hang out in the landfill to keep the plastic bags filled with plastic company.

We've covered rubber-natural rubber mats quite a bit here (check out the side-bar for links!) but I haven't really touched on the other, super eco-fraud out there "TPE".

Lululemon carries it, Gaiam carries it, Barefoot Yoga Company carries it... TPE or ThermoPLASTIC Elastomers, is used to make the latest ahem, "eco" mats that are cheap with increasing alacrity. But is it really a "green" option? Let's start with exactly what is TPE.

Thermoplastic Elastomers are made from... well it's hard to say. They are copolymers (which are two polymers, which are monomers put together... monomers are small molecules (any) that can bond together to form polymers... do you see how wonky this gets?) that are usually formed with plastic or rubber. Barefoot Yoga Company claims that it's TPE's are made from hydrogen and carbon... However, hydrocarbon (a monomer made from hydrogen and carbon) may consist of many different and not always eco-friendly (read: plastic) types. Also, Barefoot Yoga has a PER mat (polymer environmental resin). Rubber is considered an environmental resin... According to this site, PER (specifically yoga mats made from PER) is made from PVC. (WTF?) They add acetic try butyl citrate, liquid phased stabilizer, second mixture of powder like PVC, filling agent (whatever that is), light stabilizer uvasorb and fireproof agent (ummm)- baked at 170 degrees celcius and THEN becomes an environmental friendly resin. Riiiight. (

TPE's are PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride), latex, and (supposedly) rubber-free (when specified). Since the definition of what IS TPE is so vague, really it could be plastic+rubber=TADA! TPE. So the consumer really has to depend on the company to be upfront about what exactly their version of TPE consists of. Great, I really feel like depending on Lululemon to be upfront.

Another huge "eco-ability" these mats boast is their biodegradability. These mats do not, repeat, do not hold up well to sunlight or heat. I would know, mine started to break down after being exposed to the sunlight for about... 40 minutes. Now it flakes all over Andrew's pants. He likes purple flakes, they add to his yoga-zen. Unfortunately, as we discussed in my "bioplastic, really biodegradable?" post (see side bar for the whole post), this type of substance typically requires heat and sunlight to break down. Landfills aren't really the poster child for their beautiful sunlight views from the piles of plastic garbage bags. In fact, as opposed to "dumps" where garbage is continuously dumped (haha- clever), landfills are usually compacted and covered with soil daily. Soil isn't exactly a pristine, sunlight allowing window. I'm really not sure where the magical sunlight will penetrate the mounds of garbage bags and soil to break down the TPE yoga mat.

Now, you could also say, well why don't we just put our mats in the compost pile? Same reason, the mats will need prolonged periods of sunlight or heat to decompose, and unless you are 100% sure as to the purity of the "hydrogen and carbon" (or hydrocarbon) compounds that make up your mat, it may well be "biodegrading" into smaller pieces of it's chemical-y self. Into your soil. These mats are dyed to get their pretty colours and usually have glue (although Barefoot Yoga claims that their mats don't) to keep them together.

So my final conclusions? Thermoplastic Elastomer is a label that is a generic term and could mean pretty well anything from plastic to carbon. Overall it looks like a lot of greenwashing and still seems pretty darn synthetic. I choose natural rubber mats for their sustainability, reliability and performance. However, if you are a sensitive yogi/ni (the one who always is saying: "Do you SMELL that???") then rubber may not be for you. So far Barefoot Yoga Company is the most upfront and explanatory of the TPE crowd that I've found. :)

Hope this was helpful :)


  1. I LOVE the picture! I played with those little ones as a child.

  2. Hehe I also LOVE this little toads, they are so cute :) We used to catch them and keep them in little buckets... I think mom told me once that she let some go when we weren't looking... lol I guess we thought they could live forever in their tiny bucket kingdom!
    (also- they pee in your hand when they get scared... which I had forgotten about when I took this picture! ack!)

  3. Great post. So good that another site has apparently decided to publish it too. Just wanted to let you know in case you didn't mean for this to happen. (I'm guessing you didn't.)

    Anyway, these new plastics that are supposedly eco-friendly are a crock as far as I'm concerned. Thanks for writing this post.


  4. Hi Beth!
    I'm so glad you could visit... in a roundabout way. I had NO idea they "stole" my post! I tried commenting- and it brought me to the FBI webpage....


    In any case, I'm glad you liked the post :)

  5. Hi Eco Yogini -

    I read your blog post yesterday and couldn't think of anything to say. It's almost too much to take in. Why is it that trying to make the best choices can be so overwhelming? Thanks for doing the research and writing on the mat issue.

    Thanks for your comment over on my blog too.

    Namaste ~ Sara

  6. Thanks for letting me know about the post stealer. Does this mean we've "made it" in the blogpshere, lol. Seriously though, it does suck. I have no idea how that works. I'll ask my man later, he knows more about this kind of stuff.

  7. Hi, I asked my hubby about it. The post thing is because of feedburner, it finds you through your RSS. My hubby pointed out that there is a Source link at the buttom of the posts that lead you back to your RSS feed, so it isn't stealing, as in links back to you. He said it was good as it increases your googlejuice.

  8. Hiya. Sorry you have been feeling low as well- hopefully the effects will pass nice and quick for both of us and all the others effected like this.... Had nice evening with F...

  9. I'm not really sure if there's a whole lot you can do about the posts on that site other than write them and see if you hear back.

    In other news, in case you were interested, there is a yoga retreat at Sail Loft. you don't have to do the whole thing and it's pretty much donation based unless you're staying there overnight and don't bring your own food. Not sure if I'm going yet. If I do it will probably just be for the day on Saturday (interested in the yoga sutra discussion). Here's the link:

    (scroll down: it's called: Sail Loft Yoga Studio Oceanside retreat with Yogiji August 21st-23rd)

  10. great post, as usual. i just found your blog from a search on eco/ejo mats & am thrilled to find truth here. brava! mamaglee

  11. Howdy! Just found your blog from searching out TPE yoga mats to see how eco-friendly they really are before I buy them for myself and partner for X-mas gifts. Not a whole lot out there in this arena that I could find. Thanks for an enlightening post. Back to rubber, I guess. Erk!

    Nice to see Beth from FPF on here - I'm a fan of hers too.

    Julie in AZ

  12. How strange to find this just now in my inbox, as I'm online searching for a Manduka Eko Lite mat... I have a rubber mat and do Bikram and the smell is horrible. The rubber mat I had is a NAKED MAT (I think they are not in business anymore), which was great for non-heated classes...but rubber and heat smells. Makes me think I'm inhaling something toxic.

    Thanks for the info on Mats. Mamaglee

  13. Thanks so much for this. It's really helpful. I've been wanting a yoga mat with no nasties for a while but it got too confusing.
    Now to find a natural rubber mat that isn't too expensive.
    And that baby toad is so adorable!


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