The first yoga mat I ever bought was a bright green plastic thing for maybe $15, impulse purchased on my way to college years ago at whatever big box store I was relying on to stock my dorm room with plastic under-bed bins, shower caddies, and window decals (yes: how far I've come). I used it for years, long after the footprints stopped scrubbing out and became just a general gray blur on each side of the mat. When I looked for a new one to replace it, I knew my ethics of consumption had changed: I no longer wanted the cheapest version, no longer wanted a plastic mat, and wanted something that would last even longer than the seven or so years of my first mat. And, yet, my plastic mat would last forever in a landfill - so, not something that would last that long.
To stay zero waste (ish), I'm careful to try to choose objects that are long-lasting over those that aren't. But, long-lasting rarely means forever-lasting (beloved cast iron skillet, you're the exception), so it matters too that when I purchase something I have an end game in mind, an alternative way to dispose of it or pass it along, sans landfill. For a lot of items, these endings look fairly simple: choosing cotton reusable produce bags over synthetic ones means that I can compost or upcycle the fabric when the bags become unusable. A stainless steel razor can be recycled when it's no longer useful, though they're durable enough that ones from decades past can still be found on eBay. Wooden cutting boards can eventually end up in the compost if someone forgets to dry them one too many times and mold creeps inexorably up the bottom.
But, for some items, knowing what to do with them once they're no longer usable is tough. As I'm faced with disposing of that plastic green mat (which probably is not in donate-able condition, although do you know of anyplace that needs old yoga mats or recycles them?), the choice I make when finding a better yoga mat this time around will bear fruit in another ten years or so, when I'll have better - though not perfect - options for what to do with it.
Enter this cork and rubber mat, a thoughtful gift from Ian at Gaia Guy. According to Ian, the entire mat will eventually compost - he suggests scoring it in multiple places and then wrapping it around the base of a tree, where it will break down, albeit quite slowly. From what I can tell, rubber does biodegrade, but takes a long time to so. He also offered the good idea of using the mat in other ways once it's too ratty for yoga but before it's fully outlived its usefulness - as a cushy pad for standing on in front of your workbench, as a similar pad in the garage, cut up into smaller rectangles to use as a gardening mat or doormat, etc. In lieu of composting the whole thing, I also wonder if I could carefully cut the cork top away from the rubber bottom, composting the cork and recycling the rubber. And then, of course, there are cork yoga blocks too, for which disposal will be even simpler: since they're pure cork, recycling them or composting them will be easy.
A little bit more about how I've found using the mat, if you're curious: because it's made of rubber and not plastic, it is a heavy, sturdy thing. It doesn't roll up into as small of a parcel as typical yoga mats do, and it's definitely not the type of thing you'd want to throw on your shoulder and stroll to yoga with (though if you drive, you could bring it in your car - or, you can find a lighter-weight, travel version here). I love its heft, though, which feels grounding and luxurious. The grippy rubber means that it stays put on the floor and doesn't crinkle under my feet in poses. I use it in my home yoga practice, and then take along the old green mat to studios when I need to bring my own, though I may just start renting a mat there each time.
I'm still not quite sure which option for disposal I'll choose for the mat ten years hence or so - probably a combination of a few of the ideas above. But, unlike that green plastic yoga mat, I do have choices for getting it to somewhere other than a landfill. And that, I like.