12.16.11: Since posting this we’ve had quite a few questions about the Lululemon mats. Stephen has added some additional info in the comments.
I’m honored to have a post written by my first guest blogger, Stephen Ewashkiw, who happens to be my favorite yoga teacher. (Full disclosure: He’s also my husband.)
On the surface, this post is about Stephen’s trials and errors trying to find an eco-friendly yoga mat. But it’s much more than that. It’s also about consumer responsibility, corporate green-washing, and not being afraid to ask the hard questions. So even if you think down dog is something couples do in the privacy of their own bedrooms, there’s something here for you.
Over to Stephen.
I love yoga. I practice daily. Which means I have my hands, bare feet, forearms, back, and my face (oops!) on my yoga mat all the time. That’s why it matters what’s in my yoga mat.
I love the earth. I love trees, people, animals, and the air that we breathe. That’s why it matters what’s in my yoga mat.
My first mat was an all-natural rubber biodegradable mat (made by Jade). I figured once I was done with it, it would break down quickly, without leaching toxic chemicals into the world. However, I didn’t know that it would start to break down BEFORE I was done with it. Eighteen months after buying it I had worn out both sides and needed a new one.
I decided that my second mat better last A LOT longer.
A Mat With Added Metal
At the time, many of my friends used the Manduka PRO mat. It is guaranteed to last a lifetime and the company website says all the right things when it comes to environmentalism: “Zero-waste”; “sustainable”; “OEKO-TEX certified*”; “emissions-free manufacturing”; “committed to environmentally friendly practices and products”…
These claims all made me feel that Manduka takes their environmental responsibilities seriously.
But, as I was doing some more research, I came across a blog that claimed that the Manduka PRO mat contains heavy metals.
This was pretty hard to believe. After all, Manduka said they were super-enviro so I thought “Well, that can’t be true”.
I emailed Manduka to find out.
Their first response was vague. It said that they are environmentally friendly and do their utmost to limit their impact on the earth. That’s great, but clearly NOT what I asked. So I asked again. The reply came back. The Manduka PRO, they told me, is made with PVC but does not contain heavy metals.
Because of my research, I knew this to be impossible.
In order to make PVC stable, heavy metals MUST be added to the recipe.
What’s All The Fuss About Heavy Metals?
This seems like a good time to stop and tell you why the idea of heavy metals in my yoga mat freaked me out so much.
First of all, in case you don’t know, heavy metals include fun things like arsenic, mercury, and plutonium. The heavy metal most commonly found in PVC products is lead. Yes, the same lead that was outlawed in paint and gasoline decades ago because of its devastating effects on our health.
Exposure can cause headaches, cancer, mental illness, neurological disorders and a whole bundle of other health problems.
How Much Heavy Metal Is Too Much?
Of course, there are international standards about how much heavy metal content is acceptable in various products, but these standards mostly apply to packaging and textiles. The most stringent regulations are for baby clothes – and those are allowed to contain almost as much heavy metal as plastic packaging.
Editor’s note: What kind of world do we live in where there is an acceptable level of heavy metals for baby clothes?
Nobody actually knows exactly how much of this stuff we can safely be exposed to, though according to this article in the Telegraph, the US Center for Disease control says “there is no safe threshold for lead exposure”. Also, nobody really knows how much we are exposed to. A little here, a little there – it all adds up.
We also know it’s not possible to avoid heavy metals completely – they’re everywhere**. When it’s possible to avoid them, I want to.
Remember, I use my mat EVERY day. With my bare hands and feet (and face). However little lead is in there, do I really want it soaking into my skin?
Waste Capture and Release
I continued to ask questions of Manduka, until I made enough of a nuisance of myself that I got a call from Sky Meltzer, their CEO. He was very nice, wanted to hear what I had to say, and told me that yes, in fact The Manduka PRO and PROLite mats DO contain heavy metals, because they contain PVC.
He also told me that Manduka participates in waste capture so that any heavy metal waste from making their mats is stored and doesn’t get released into the environment. Where is it stored? He couldn’t tell me. What happens to it once you capture it? He couldn’t tell me.
So, even if you think the government regulations are to be trusted (you also think pizza is a veggie, don’t you?), remember that the use of heavy metals in manufacturing is creating toxic waste so bad that it has to be stored instead of thrown away. I couldn’t even find out where the waste is today, let alone what is going to happen to it 50 years from now.
And then, there’s the other stuff that PVC makes necessary. According to Lead Action News, “In many cases, the final PVC product will contain relatively little raw PVC. Additive chemicals acting as stabilizers, plasticizers, pigments, optical brighteners, flame retardants, biocides, foaming agents and lubricants can make up over 50% of the final product.”
This is not what I want to be thinking about when I’m in savasana.
Exploring Other Options
Fortunately, I had plenty of non-PVC mats to choose from. I looked at several natural rubber and organic plant fiber options. Finally I found what I think is the ultimate eco-friendly, rugged yoga mat.
I bought The Mat from Lululemon. The Mat contains no PVC, is made with Polyurethane, and contains recycled luon (their own-brand fabric). No lead, mercury, or Black Sabbath to be found.
The bonus is that it’s also a great yoga mat. It still looks like new, is super-sticky, and absorbs sweat. It’s also pretty good with spilled coffee and knocked over bottles of water. I just wash it once a week with lemon juice diluted in water. I love it!
More Info On Heavy Metals
*What the heck is an OEKO-TEX?
The Oeko-tex standards are standard for the AMOUNTS of heavy metals and other nasty things manufacturers are allowed to put in their products. At best, yoga mats adhere to the standards for baby products, Class I. At worst, Furnishings, Class IV. Either way the standards vary little between classes. http://www.oeko-tex.com/oekotex100_public/content1.asp?area=hauptmenue&site=grenzwerte&cls=02
**Where else should I look for heavy metals?
As far as consumer products go, heavy metals turn up in the most unexpected places. Here are a few examples:
- A Canadian study found heavy metals in several brands of make-up. The highest levels were in lip gloss, much of which we end up eating.
- A Consumer Reports study found that of the 15 whey protein supplements they tested, all contained heavy metals.
- Yet another study discovered toxic levels of mercury and lead in some pet food.
- Finally, Greenpeace researchers tested 500 toys bought in China and found that a third of them contained either lead, arsenic, cadmium, mercury, antimony or chromium.