15 March 2018
Manduka Pro Yoga Mat: Waste and Emissions
Yoga mats have become ubiquitous within the yoga and fitness community, however many consumers are unaware of the adverse environmental impacts their mats produce due to the harmful emissions expelled throughout their manufacturing process and their contribution to growing landfills. Aware of these issues, Manduka’s brand philosophy is committed to production transparency and minimizing environmental waste. While Manduka’s lifetime guaranteed PRO mats take an environmentally conscious approach to yoga mat manufacturing, the acquisition of raw materials to waste management significantly contribute to environmental degradation through toxic effluent and harmful emissions.
With the advancement of energy sources, the production process of goods has become less transparent to the consumer which reinforces negative habits of uneducated consumerism. Many forget or are unaware that the genesis of many products begin with the extraction of raw materials. Similarly, the creation of the Manduka PRO mat starts with the acquisition of natural gas, crude oil, and brine which are necessary components to the fabrication of PVC and polyester. Obtaining natural gas and crude oil requires hydraulic fracking which is the process of fracking impermeable shale to access the oil deposits found in permeable rock. Up to 10 million litres of fracking fluid are pumped into the borehole under extremely high pressures to allow the oil and gas to escape. This process creates a flowback liquid that contains water and contaminants, radioactive material, heavy metals, and other toxins. In the United States, the routine disposal methods of fracking fluid include storing in deep underground wells on the fracking site or disposing in off-site wastewater treatment facilities. However, the flowback liquid has the potential to contaminate underground sources of drinking water and surface waters due to spills or faulty well construction. In addition, natural gas wells and pipelines often have engines to run equipment and compressors, which produce air pollutants and noise. The process of fracking also releases volatile organic compounds, hazardous air pollutants, and greenhouse gases which are leading factors that cause air pollution. Extracting crude oil from the ground also has the potential of erupting oil spills due to faulty machines or human error. The U.S. Department of Energy reports that approximately 1.3 million gallons of petroleum are spilled into U.S. water from vessels and pipelines a year, however a major oil spill could easily double that amount. Mitigating oil spills can be especially precarious as they usually require dispersants, such as Corexit, to break down the oil into particles that mix more freely with water, however these dispersants can potentially be more toxic than the oil in its original form. In relation to natural gas and crude oil, the extraction of salt is relatively harmless. Salt water used for commercial purposes tend to be harvested through solar evaporation in which the wind and sun evaporate the water from shallow pools, leaving salt behind. The brine is then moved before evaporation is complete to prevent highly soluble impurities such as magnesium chloride, magnesium sulfate, potassium chloride, and magnesium bromide from settling out with the salt. These substances are by-products of salt extraction which may be collected separately for commercial use.
After acquiring the necessary raw materials, these basic elements are then manufactured, processed, and formulated into the actual yoga mat. Natural gas and crude oil are necessary for the production of ethylene through steam cracking. In this process liquid petroleum is heated in steam furnaces and put under extreme pressure to change the molecular weight and allow ethylene to be identified, segmented, and captures. The heat necessary to power steam furnaces is achieved by burning coal which releases many toxic airborne pollutants and heavy metals into the environment such as mercury, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and particulate matter. Salt is required to produce chlorine in the process of electrolysis where a strong current of electricity is sent through a salt water solution. The electricity changes the molecular structure of the salt and separates sodium from chloride. In addition to chlorine, hydrogen gas and caustic soda are co-products of electrolysis which are also processed for commercial use, therefore not immediately wasted. Recently the electrolysis process has been adopting renewable energy options such as wind or nuclear energy options, as using the power grid emits greenhouse gases and requires fossil fuels, which has resulted in virtually zero greenhouse gas and criteria pollutant emissions. Ethylene and chlorine then react together within a catalyst-containing reactor under the direct chlorination method to create ethylene dichloride. Then in the oxychlorination process, EDC is thermally cracked to yield vinyl chloride molecules in which hydrogen chloride is created as a by-product. However, this by-product is reused as it reacts with ethylene in the presence of catalyst and air to produce EDC again. The EDC from the oxychlorination process is dehydrated and then thermally cracked with the EDC from the direct chlorination process and VCM is obtained. Thermal cracking requires steam crackers that can be powered by a variety of fuels to feed the burners. Typically natural gas or crude oil is burned to create the steam for the furnaces however burning natural gas emits harmful greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxides. Lastly, the polymerization of VCM links these molecules together to form PVC which composes the top and bottom components of the mat. A hydraulic press is used to compress the layers of PVC and polyester to ensure the three layers are firmly held together.
The production of VCM and PVC is linked to many adverse environmental and health effects, however Manduka’s source of VCM and PVC in Germany has been adopting new technology and cleaner methods to reduce these ecological consequences. Manufacturing and working with VCM can be dangerous as it is highly toxic, flammable, and carcinogenic therefore VCM itself can be considered a toxic emission in the production process of PVC. In North Rhein/Westphalia, Germany, there are strict regulations on the worker and outside exposure to VCM ppm. To reduce VCM emissions, Germany has converted to large vessels for suspension polymerization which have fewer potential leaks and less fugitive emissions of VCM in the atmosphere. With time the polymerization process develops polymer build-up on the reactor walls and requires cleaning and maintenance. In the past this maintenance was done by hand which was unsafe for workers and cost ineffective. Presently, these plants use automatic cleaning systems which reduce fugitive emissions since the reactor is not being opened as frequently. The waste from this cleaning procedure includes a mixture of polymer and water from the high pressure water systems.
Transportation involves shipping the finished mats from Germany to stores in the US that sell Manduka products and shipping the mat to customers using the home delivery method. This distribution process requires delivery vessels which include cars, trucks, airplanes, ships, and rails. These vehicles produce varying degrees of pollutants, such as particulate matter, hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and greenhouse gases, that contribute to air pollution and ozone depletion. Additionally, any cardboard boxes or containers used to ship the mats will also eventually become waste, however most delivery boxes can be recycled or repurposed.
In the use, re-use, and maintenance stage, there should not be any waste or emissions produced if the mat is used correctly and for its original purpose. The mat requires little maintenance, if any, which includes cleaning the mat with cleansing solutions. Manduka sells cleansing sprays which are recyclable when empty.
Unfortunately due to their high content of toxic material, it is nearly impossible to recycle and breakdown yoga mats. However, Manduka claims their mats are life-time guaranteed which intends for users to consume a single mat for their entire life. Due to their promising durability, Pro mats are likely to survive sustained and continued use, thus when a consumer would conventionally dispose of their mat, they could easily recycle it by donating to a friend or mat collectors such as JadeYoga which collects old mats and distributes them to community centers, retirement homes, or other locations that provide yoga service. Therefore the only waste and emissions produced in the recycling stage is expelled from the transportation used to transport the mat to the next user or to mail the mat to a company that repurposes them. This could contribute to air pollution if cars and trucks are being employed.
Manduka advertises their yoga mats will last a lifetime, however when the consumer eventually retires their mat and throws it away, it will typically reach a landfill. The additives in PVC plastic create further landfill problems by their potential for leaching chlorine, carcinogens, and other toxic chemicals into the soil and air. These chemicals contaminate groundwater and air quality, threatening human and environmental health. Another waste disposal method is incineration, however this is rarely exercised and unpopular compared to landfill disposal. When burned, PVC releases the gas form of highly corrosive hydrochloric acid. Incineration regulations state that this and other resultant toxins must be contained and neutralized, but troubling amounts have been found to leak into the atmosphere. Ash from PVC incineration also contains toxic elements, most often cadmium and lead. The presence of these two heavy metals requires that the ash be delivered to controlled landfills, where space and groundwater contamination are eventual concerns. Therefore direct landfill disposal is preferred over incineration.
Despite their inevitable contribution to environmental degradation, Manduka uses high quality material and makes sustainable production a priority unlike many other yoga mat producers that use cheap, unsustainable material which tend to generate greater waste and emissions. Their Pro mats are marked at a relatively steep price which engenders their consumers to make a lasting commitment to using one high quality mat for their entire yoga journey. However, since the Pro mat contains PVC, its ultimate destination will be a landfill after its lifetime use has expired. The Manduka Pro mats are certainly a nod in the right direction for environmentally conscious yoga mat manufacturing yet there are many other yoga mat options on the market that reject PVC and use materials such as biodegradable natural tree rubbers which create a smaller environmental footprint. It will be difficult to alter the trajectory of consumerism culture, thus consumers should research or have access to a products cradle-to-grave life cycle allowing them to make better, more informed decisions with their shopping habits.
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Research Paper Assignment
Embodied Energy: Manduka Pro Yoga Mat
For thousands of years, many have practiced yoga in India without the aid of yoga mats. Because most of the yoga styles in the earlier periods were predominantly composed of seated breathing and meditation work, there was no need for the types of mats we use today. For those who wanted a more comfortable seat would sit on grass, soil, animal skin, or cloth. With technological material and machinery advancements in recent decades, we now use yoga mats. These are specially fabricated mats that aid us during yoga to prevent hands and feet from slipping during the practice of yoga. Because of the increase in popularity, the yoga mat has become an indispensable aid. With rises in popularity of yoga, we have decided to conduct a research on the lifecycle of the Manduka Pro yoga mat from beginning to end. This report will focus on and analyze the embodied energy of a Manduka Pro yoga mat. Through this research paper, the reader will be able to have a better understanding of a yoga mat’s life cycle. This will likely encourage the reader to think more critically about the product and become aware of the processes in production and its effect on our planet.
According to Manduka, their Pro yoga mats are made from the highest quality PVC on the planet, manufactured emissions-free and is guaranteed for life.[i] As a company, they strive to understand the impossibility of leaving no environmental footprint. Your environmental footprint represents the amount of the Earth's resources and productive spaces needed to support your everyday life. It includes your housing footprint, carbon footprint, food footprint, and goods and services footprint that's measured in global hectares or global acres. That number tells you how much of the Earth's surface you use to sustain your life. Your ecological footprint is significant because every person has one, and as the world population increases, as it is already more than 6 billion people, so does the amount of resources needed to sustain it. According to the Center for Sustainable Economy, each person should use 15.71 global hectares in order to sustain the Earth's resources, including clean air and water. As of now, the average person's global footprint is 23.47 global hectares, nearly twice as much as the Earth's maximum sustainable resource level, according to the Center for Sustainable Economy. [ii] However, Manduka commits to a policy of having 100% transparency, being clear about the decisions that are made such as the choices of resources and materials being used but most importantly, leaving space for future improvements. Manduka constantly strives to become better, stronger, kinder and more conscious of their impact on a global scale.
The Manduka Pro yoga mat is made up of a combination of PVC (polyvinyl chloride) and polyester. The top and bottom layers are the PVC which sandwich a middle layer of thin fabric scrim made of polyester. This thin layer helps prevent the yoga mat from stretching too much when in use. When we break down these two elements of PVC and polyester, we find that there are multiple raw materials comprised when producing each element.
When PVC is broken down to its raw materials acquisitions, we can find that there are crude oil, natural gases and sea salt that are chemically combined through chemical and thermal energy.[iii] Crude oil and natural gases, which are collected through fracking is done by drilling a well, vertically into the land to reach deep depths. Once reached a desired depth, a mixture of water, sand, and chemicals are pumped into the well at a high pressure to create fractures in the rocks which then allows the hydrocarbons to escape. [iv] The hydrocarbons are drawn back up to the surface and is collected to be filtered. Sea salt which is also incorporated in manufacturing PVC is collected at salt lakes or sea waters. Solar evaporation occurs causing chemical and thermal reactions for the water to evaporate and leave salt to be collected. This salt is mainly collected by machines which run on fossil fuels or electrical energy, but also with the aid of human labor in controlling the machinery. Once collected, the raw materials are then shipped to the locations where material is combined to produce PVC.
PVC is manufactured by first producing ethene (ethylene) which is the most important organic chemical, by tonnage, that is manufactured. Ethene is a building block for a vast range of chemicals from plastics to antifreeze solutions and solvents. Ethene is first produced from the cracking of fractions using electrical energy to power machinery which then are made to obtain natural gas and oil through distillation. It is captured during a process called thermal cracking. Liquid petroleum is heated with thermal energy, which is then placed in steam furnaces and put under extreme pressure. This creates changes in the molecular weight of the chemicals found in petroleum feedstock. Chemical energy causes the molecular weight to change and allows ethylene to be identified, segmented and captured. It is then cooled back down to a liquid state and once cooled, it is mixed with salt which forces the the molecular structure to change due to chemical and thermal energy being expended. [v] When ethylene and chlorine are reacted, EDC (ethylene dichloride) to form. This is then passed through another thermal cracking process which produces VCM (vinyl chloride monomer).
VCM is a gas with high vapour pressure at an ambient temperature which requires to be handled under strict quality and safety controls. VCM can be manufactured in two ways: obtained from thermal cracking, or the direct chlorination method of oxychlorination method. EDC passes through another thermal cracking process which produces VCM. This VCM is then sent through a catalyst-containing reactor where polymerization occurs. Chemical reactions allow the VCM molecules to react and link together. When linked, the VCM molecules create PVC resin, which is where all vinyl compounds begin to form. [vi]
Besides PVC, an important material in producing the Manduka Pro mat is polyester. Polyester is made up of raw materials including synthetic fiber derived from coal, air, water and petroleum. Polyester fibers are formed from a chemical reaction between an acid and alcohol. The principle ingredient used in the manufacture of polyester is ethylene, which is derived from petroleum. Polyester manufacturing methods include filament manufacturing and staple fiber manufacturing. The different manufacturing methods are chosen depending on the form the finished polyester will take. We believe that the Manduka Pro yoga mat is made using the filament manufacturing method because this method accommodates for the size in creating a woven structure to put into a yoga mat. Filament manufacturing occurs firstly by polymerization, where dimethyl terephthalate is reacted with ethylene glycol at high temp of 302-410 degree fahrenheit in a catalyst. Chemical and thermal energy is applied during this process resulting in a chemical reaction. Monomer alcohol is combined with terephthalic acid and raised to a temp of 472 degree fahrenheit. Mechanical, thermal and electrical energy is expended at this stage which allows newly formed polyester (clear and molten), to be extruded through a slot to form long ribbons. After the polyester emerges from polymerization, the drying phase occurs and are cooled until they become brittle. The material is then cut up into small chips which allow for a more thorough dry and prevent irregular inconsistency. Once the chips are fully dried, the melt spinning stage occur. The polymer chips are melted with thermal energy at 500-528 degree fahrenheit to produce a syrup-like solution. The solution is then placed in a spinneret, which is a metal container with tiny holes to allow the solution to be pushed through to form a single strand of fiber. Once the polyester is drawn from the spinneret, the fiber is stretched by being pulled and rolled upon by special machinery. The stretching of the polyester fiber allows the material to increase in strength and tenacity. [vii]The fiber is then shipped to other factories via various modes of transportation which mainly expend energy through the burning of fossil fuels or by electrical energy. [viii]
Once PVC and polyester are made, they are combined to create the final product of the Manduka Pro yoga mat. Mainly machinery take care of the mass production of these yoga mats by running on electrical and chemical energy. Finalized yoga mats are ready for distribution by transportation. Manduka stores are located nationwide which allows us to believe that there are many forms of transportations to be used to deliver to each and every store. Modes of transportation include trucks, boats, planes, trains, etc. Each and every form expends fossil fuels or electrical energy at relatively large amounts. We can see that the distribution process take up a high percentage of embodied energy within the life cycle of the Manduka Pro yoga mat.
As Manduka promotes the Pro yoga mats to be guaranteed for life, the buyer can make an investment in using one mat for the rest of their lives. This promotes reduced output of waste on our part, but it also encourages us to treasure the materials we had at hand. By making an investment in a high quality mat, there are recycling options of passing the mat onto other people for further use, or to facilities which may re-use materials within the yoga mat. This practice of re-using may help decrease the great amounts of waste being outputted everyday.
If and when the Manduka Pro yoga mats are not recycled and go straight to the landfill, due to the PVC that is incorporated, it will take hundreds or even thousands of years to fully break down (when returned to the soil). Unfortunately, PVC also releases highly toxic chemicals including dioxins, a known carcinogen, in the bio degrading process. These chemicals are both harmful to us and the environment causing a negative impact as waste products. [ix]
Due to the lack of information, this research paper could not come to being a full and completed research of the life cycle of the Manduka Pro yoga mat, but with assumptions and critical thinking, we are able to see the big picture of the product at hand and its impacts. The Manduka Pro yoga mat has its pros and cons but the concept of having consumers think and understand what they are buying, considering the environmental impacts is an important aspect that we should all keep in mind when purchasing any product. This research project helped myself understand how many different resources, energy and waste is expended in producing a product. By having a deeper understanding of each process a product goes through, I believe that we are able to make better and smarter choices for ourselves but also our environments.
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