When we began our research in 2000 we discovered almost all Yoga mats currently on sale around the world were made of PVC (polyvinyl chloride: commonly known as "vinyl"). Up until the 1930s this plastic was considered a useless toxic by-product of the oil industry. As chemists explored the applications of PVC the versatility, newness and economic gains at that time were far more appealing than any environmental consideration. The benefits of vinyl seemed endless during the 20th century. Health and environmental drawbacks soon came to light and the controversial PVC debate began.
In order to make PVC soft and 'sticky', as is required for yoga mats, many chemicals are added. The most significant is a plasticiser called DHEP (Di (2-ethylhexyl) phthalate). Unfortunately these chemical softeners are toxic to humans and to the environment. Scientists and campaigners continue to promote a worldwide reduction in the amount of phthalates used in plastics. In 2000 the European Commission brought out a Green Paper and later held a public hearing on the environmental issues of PVC.
As the demand for yoga mats increased so did the number of suppliers. Almost all production shifted to China and Taiwan to keep costs down. Yoga was a practice to cash in upon and competiton was on the rise.
Even if unaware of basic yogic principles the demand for more environmentally sound yoga mats is stronger than ever. Retailers of yoga mats are faced with this reality.
When we first introduced our mats many practitioners were relieved that there was finally an alternative. Many had been waiting, many searching. Sadly some were very defensive.
As students ourselves we had only listened to our own practice and those around us. Plastic mats were just not appropriate anymore.
In response we stepped back and off our mats. Research began for possible alternatives. Inspired by Henryk Skolimovski's book "EcoYoga: Practice & meditations for walking in beauty on the Earth" we formed ecoYoga Ltd and got Henryk's book back in publication. We created a 100%natural rubber yoga mat with jute scrim. (The scrim is the material used in the inner section of the mats. In most mats it is usually non-degredable polyester/nylon).
Rubber/ latex comes from a tree called Hevea Brasiliensis and is a lectin from the bark. The Indians of the Amazon rain forest called this rubber tree Catchou or the tree that weeps as the latex drips through channels scored into the bark. Trees can be tapped for up to 30 years after which they can be used for building or furniture construction.
A revolutionary accident in the rubber industry occured in 1839 when Charles Goodyear spilled a rubber/sulphur compound onto a hot stove. He discovered that the resulting mixture did not turn stiff when cold or smelly and gooey when hot - major problems for those trying to make rubber boots or raincoats before then! Rubber has become an invaluable commodity since then.
Jute is a sustainable plant that is grown in regions of India and Bangladesh in a 4 month period just prior to the rainy season. It is fast growing and uses land that would otherwise be dormant at that time so increasing revenue for farmers.
Made with 100% natural rubber and natural jute fibre the ecoYoga mats are the first of their kind. The compound used is environmentally neutral. As far as possible we aim to reduce packaging and to use recycled or sustainable materials in all our products. Composting trials are constant. The raw rubber is currently from the international market. The jute is plant based and supplied by a Scottish company who have long term family relations with the producers in Bangladesh and India. The mats themselves are made in the UK.
Some suppliers now offer PVC mats tested for levels of toxicity (safe for the skin). Alternative plastics are also being introduced to avoid the PVC controversy. Since the launch of ecoYoga Ltd in 2003 the movement away from plastic mats has become more public and widespread.