Thursday, July 31, 2008

Bamboo-zled, part 1

On July 15, I attended the 2008 FTC Workshop: Green Building and Textiles in Washington, D.C.; this is the fourth of a series of reports about the presentations and discussions. (To see all, select blog entries tagged "regulation".)

The high point of the morning, for me, was the exposure of the greenwashing associated with bamboo materials. As I explained in an earlier post, while bamboo itself can be grown sustainably, the most commonly used process used to produce textiles are far from green or sustainable by any definition. Speakers Peter Hauser (a professor from North Carolina State University) and Janice Gerde (a specialist in textiles and other materials from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection) delivered a one-two punch to bamboo labeling. Hauser differentiated between materials which could be logically called "natural bamboo fiber" (processed mechanically to produce a linen-like material), "rayon from bamboo" (regenerated cellulose, using the viscose process) and "lyocell from bamboo" (regenerated cellulose, using the more environmentally-friendly lyocell process). According to Hauser, the claims often made for bamboo -- antimicrobial properties, absorbency and breathability -- have been substantiated ONLY for materials made from natural bamboo fiber, which account for a very, very small fraction of the bamboo textiles on the market.

Dr. Gerde followed up with a meticulous overview of existing classifications (U.S. Customs and FTC) for "regenerated cellulose", "cellulose", "man-made fibers", "artificial fibers" and "rayon". (Rayon is considered artificial, or man-made, and never, never "natural", since the processing completely alters the original material.) Gerde then produced the results of an infrared spectrographic comparision of bamboo yarn (purchased in a local yarn shop) and the standard rayon yarn used in testing. They were identical. It was, she emphasized, impossible for U.S. Customs to verify claims that a rayon garment was made of bamboo, as opposed to any other cellulosic material. LaRhea Pepper (Organic Exchange) added during the ensuing discussion that the claim "organic" can only legally be made for the original fiber, but should not be used as a product claim ("100% organic bamboo yarn"), except for natural bamboo (the mechanically-processed version).

1 comment:

projektleiterin said...

That explains most what I had been wondering about in my previous comment.