Green is the new black. With environmental events like Earth Day and Plastic Free July making headlines and the cover of National Geographic, being eco-conscious has never been so cool. It’s wonderful that initiatives to save our only inhabitable planet is front page news. But for all those environmentally aware consumers out there, it means paying even more attention to what we buy as terms like “biodegradable,” “eco-friendly,” “eco-conscious,” and “environmentally friendly” become marketing buzzwords, a new way to advertise products and target the growing market segment that wants to support Mama Earth with their purchases.
Seeing this trend of green-washing enter the holistic health space is especially disturbing for me. The people pursuing noble activities like yoga, veganism, and detoxing their lives in countless other ways is so inspiring and brings a visual representation to the conscious shift that is taking place, slowly but surely, around the world. Unfortunately, in the haste and excitement of making these changes, which often includes newly purchased items (like a yoga mat) or switching from one brand to another (like dish soap) grabbing the first attractive item proclaiming itself to be “biodegradable” and “earth friendly.” These terms have no legal definition according to the Federal Trade Commission and most often are used for marketing purposes to sell, not to educate the consumer about the product.
As a yoga teacher, one of the easiest examples for me is yoga mats. Two brands that I’ve have interactions with recently are My Soul Mats and Liforme. My Soul Mats describes their mats as “100% biodegradable” and “earth friendly”. In my direct messages with them on Instagram they informed me that their fabrics are made of “recyclable polyester/nylon,” and they only use products that are “safe for our environment”.
Similarly, when I reached out to Liforme about their mats they told me they are made of natural tree rubber and the top of the mat is “biodegradable polyurethane”
This is deceptive marketing at the highest level. Natural rubber is a natural material, made from the sap of rubber trees, and will biodegrade and turn back into dirt to fertilize and grow new rubber trees. But nylon and polyester are synthetic fabrics made from oil. Technically are biodegradable, just like a plastic bag. When exposed to the elements (sun, wind, rain) plastic bags, polyurethane coatings, and nylon/polyester fabrics will degrade. But unlike natural materials like rubber, anything plastic breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces of plastic, called microplastics or microfibers if they come from clothing.
So yes, the fabric part of the mat is “biodegradable.” But the microfibers the fabric degrades into are far from “environmentally friendly.” Microfibers too small to be filtered out by sewage treatment plants and make their way out into the ocean. There, since they are made of petroleum, they become magnets for toxins like motor oil, pesticides, and industrial chemicals. Eventually, they are ingested by fish, which incorporate those toxins into their flesh. And as a human at the top of the food chain, if you eat fish, you are eating microplastics and all the toxins they absorbed. GROSS! This video by The Story of Stuff explains it perfectly.
But don’t despair! For all the companies out there using the Green Revolution to line their pockets while still selling harmful products, there are others truly doing the right thing. Two companies making 100% biodegradable, 100% compostable, 100% natural material yoga mats are Basically Perfect and Jade Yoga.
Jade Yoga’s mission statement: “Jade is committed to making the world’s best performing, most environmentally friendly yoga products and giving back to the earth with every product sold.” And their products live up to this. Their mats are made of 100% natural tree rubber (a renewable resource), it’s wrapped in a recycled and recyclable piece of cardboard, their mat bag is made from organic cotton, all their products are made in the US (not shipping in from overseas) and for each mat purchased they plant a tree! Wow, right?! ALL this information is available on their website. Maybe it’s because they’re a more established company and know their customers want to know. Or maybe it’s because they don’t have anything to hide because their marketing strategy is telling the truth and know their products are “eco friendly.”
Another truly eco-friendly brand is Basically Perfect. The arrogant brand name may be a turn off for some, but it’s a truthful product description. I ordered this mat because I wanted one that would grip when I need to find stability but also one I could slide on when working on my floating tristasana. This mat not only performs well but also gets lots of questions and compliments, with many people asking to touch it! I love sharing that it’s made of 100% natural rubber and cork (both renewable resources, no trees were cut down in the making of these mats!) and is 100% biodegradable/compostable at the end of its life. As far as packaging, it was nearly perfect. In the pictures, it’s shown with only the paper wrap to keep it rolled up, but when I received mine from Amazon it was wrapped in plastic film. So, very nearly perfect according to my zero waste/no new plastic standards. Their other products are cork blocks and mat slings made from an organic hemp organic cotton blend. Cork and hemp are also naturally antibacterial, requiring fewer cleaning materials! So besides the plastic wrap on the mat, Basically Perfect uses 100% natural and renewable materials to make their products that support your practice.
So there ARE options! There are many other companies using only cork and natural rubber for their yoga products. But after all my research and comparison shopping, these two were the right choice for me, meeting my requirements of only natural materials. I hope this deconstruction of how companies greenwash their products just to increase sales helps you take a closer look at things when making the switch to more eco-conscious and earth-friendly items. Don’t be afraid to ask questions if the information isn’t readily available and think critically when reading terms like “biodegradable,” “eco-friendly,” “eco-conscious,” and “environmentally friendly” and dig a little deeper to find out what they actually mean. I only use these terms when referring to things that can turn back into dirt and become part of the earth again. But as this post has demonstrated, this is NOT how most commercial entities use these terms. They use them to $ell. So do your research and don’t get “sold” on something.