Are Yoga mats bad for the environment? And can you recycle them? We take an honest look at the athleisure industry, and discover the most environmentally friendly fitness brands…By Sophia Marlow

Most of us are getting pretty good at reducing our consumer waste on a day-to-day basis. We say no to plastic straws, we try to use reusable coffee cups and bottles, and we recycle where we can, but are we stopping to think of the impact the booming fitness and athleisure industry is having on the environment?

Athleisure wear is constantly evolving, and marketed to us now in the same transient way the fashion industry does. There are new lines constantly added, and new equipment and high tech clothes I never even knew I needed (case in point those curly telephone wire style 'tangle free' hairbands, made from, you guessed it... plastic). 

Gone are the days we have our 'gym kit'- one outfit for everything fitness. The one outfit that either comes to the office with us, or we keep at home in designated drawer. Nowadays we are expected to buy Yoga leggings, running leggings, dancing leggings, along with the various different bras you need for different 'levels' of boob support (sure sometimes we the right control for the girls, but at my last count Lululemons boob support variation bras number at over 50 which seems a bit excessive...).

As a Yoga teacher myself my wardrobe consists more of less entirely of gym gear, sweat pants, leggings and comfy jumpers, it's my work uniform after all! Recently however, I've been assessing my wardrobe based on materials; most leggings are up to 100% stretchy viscose or polyester; plastics which will not biodegrade. Not to mention the lint such textiles shed directly into the water table via our washing machines.

At my last wardrobe count I have to confess, even some of the clothes I thought were made from innocuous cottons, where actually blends containing aforementioned plastics. Then there's the 'equipment'  I use - my blocks are made from cork (environmentally friendly and biodegradable, tick) but resistance bands, yoga strap buckles, essential oil bottles, and various other bits and bobs are almost certainly plastic derivatives!

This got me thinking about the various Yoga mats I've had (I've been through a few...) some of which I honestly didn't check if they contained PVC, TPE, or anything environmentally destructive. My past mats might in fact be sitting in landfill, 'breaking up' into dangerous microplastics that we've all been warned about, rather than breaking down.

I think a lot of us have, in the past, been more ignorant to the effect our carbon and plastic footprint has on the environment, but nowadays we have all so much knowledge at our fingertips, we need to start taking ownership of our purchases. Check labels, buy Eco athleisure gear, don't buy PVC Yoga mats!!! I have decided to be much more careful to check the labels before I buy that next pair of leggings. 

I'm a Yoga teacher and I need a Yoga mat, but I'm going to make a conscious effort to REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE, and generally keep tabs on my athleisure purchases from now on! To help you guys do the same, I've compiled a list of planet friendly companies whose products are a safe bet, and won't cost the earth;

 Are yoga mats environmentally friendly

1 - Kin Yoga mat - minimal paper only packaging, NO PLASTIC, and natural rubber base that will biodegrade in 5 years in landfill conditions. Produced by happy people in happy, reputable factories.

2 - Birdsong - a sort of small scale, community-focussed net a porter that connects worker to wearer by selling products made by charities supporting women.

3 - LA relaxed - cosy gym gear and jumpsuits - loved by Oprah Winfrey, they are committed to using sustainable, plant-based fabrics that are known for better temperature regulation.

4 - Girlfriend collective - leisure wear - Girlfriend were one of the first to take plastic water bottles and turn them into activewear. “Taiwan, where we source all of our post-consumer water bottles, used to be called “Garbage Island". A small island nation of 23 million people, the government saw the danger of ignoring the problem, and through widespread change has transformed Taiwan into a world leader in recycling.”

5 - Stella Mccartney for Adidas - best genuinely cool vegan ethical footwear - “At the end of last year the original sustainable luxury pioneer Stella McCartney launched the world’s first vegan Stan Smiths and they’re the most perfect, minimal, classic trainers you may have ever seen.”