Yoga mats are a fairly durable item that should not need to be replaced very often. But when yours finally wears out (or when you finally admit that yoga is just not for you), you may be wondering: Is it possible to recycle yoga mats? 

Unfortunately your options are very, very limited. Two companies have found ways to re-manufacture yoga mats into new mats or shoes. If you cannot get your mat to one of them, you may need to look for a way to reuse it. Luckily the options for reuse are much more plentiful – and may be as easy as finding an organization that helps kids, seniors and people with disabilities get much-needed exercise. 

What are yoga mats made of?

Your inexpensive, run-of-the-mill yoga mat is most likely made with polyvinyl chloride, also known as PVC or by the recycling number 3. It's a good choice because of its non-stick qualities, but it's a bad choice because it's full of toxic chemicals including phthalates, lead and cadmium. 

More bad news: not only are you breathing in some of the chemicals from your yoga mat during your practice, but PVC can be extremely difficult to recycle. There are businesses that specialize in recycling certain types of PVC products, like gift cards and vinyl siding. But most things made with this particular type of plastic – most notably consumer products like records, toys and yoga mats – are difficult or impossible to recycle. 

That being said, it's important to keep PVC out the waste stream whenever possible. Since PVC is a type of plastic, it will never biodegrade. Thousands of years from now, your yoga mat will still be sitting exactly where it ended up in your local landfill. In addition, the harmful chemicals in it can be released into the ground over time. 

If your yoga mat is incinerated, the phthalates, lead, cadmium and a compound called dioxin can all be released into the air, harming anyone who breathes it. 

Greening your yoga mat

There are some great alternatives to PVC yoga mats. JadeYoga and Manduka make mats from all-natural rubber. Take note, people with latex allergies will also react to rubber and should not use these mats. 

Barefoot Yoga Company makes mats from a combination of polyester and Polyolefin, which they claim is completely biodegradable. (The polyester will not break down over time.) Another alternative to PVC mats is Yogasana’s mats made from cotton, which are hand-woven in India. 

How to recycle yoga mats

JadeYoga has a program to reuse and recycle yoga mats. Yoga studios in 19 states (including Wisconsin, California, New Jersey and Virginia) collect mats and return them to the company. Mats in good shape are given to community centers, retirement homes and other places where people come to do yoga.

Any JadeYoga mats that are returned and cannot be reused are recycled into new mats. Whenever possible, JadeYoga returns the PVC mats to specialized recyclers who can shred them, melt them down and use them in their products. 

Sanuk, a California-based footwear company, turns unwanted yoga mats into a line of flip-flops for women. Their Yoga Mat sandals include 15 different styles including flats and wedges. While most of the soles are black, the fabric that comes over the top of the foot is available in a rainbow of colors and patterns. Sandals are available on their website as well as at select retailers. 

There are no instructions for donating old yoga mats on the company’s website. That means even though you can buy a recycled product from them, you probably cannot recycle your old yoga mat with them. 

How to reuse yoga mats

You can always follow JadeYoga’s lead and donate your reusable mat to a nonprofit or other worthy organization in your hometown. Your local yoga studio may be interested in them; they can lend them to students who forget to bring their own to class. Many thrift stores will take yoga mats that are in good condition. You can also try selling your mat on a site like Craigslist. 

The non-slip properties of yoga mats make them useful for plenty of other things too. The website Gaiam shares several suggestions. Put them under furniture or rugs to keep them from slipping, or put them outside the bathtub if you have a slick floor. Cut the mat into bases and use them for children’s baseball games – or take the mat to your children’s baseball games, and sit on top of it when you are in the bleachers. Old yoga mats can also be cut into mouse pads, garden kneeling pads, coasters and trivets. make mats from all-natural rubber. Take note: People with latex allergies will also react to rubber and should not use these mats.