Friday, August 1, 2008

Bamboo-zled, part 2

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

Yesterday, I wrote about the scientific evidence about rayon made from bamboo in the first workshop panel. The final nails for the bamboo coffin were delivered by panelists in the next session, (Tying Up Loose Ends -- Substantiated Green Textile Claims & the Need for FTC Guidance).

Todd Copeland of Patagonia listed the major e-fibers his company uses in its products:

organic cotton
chlorine-free wool (chlorine is used in the shrink-proofing process)
recycled polyester and nylon
lyocell (the generic name for Tencel®)

Why not bamboo?

"We don't use bamboo because when we went to the processing factories we found out that a regular rayon processing factory is using waste products from the pulp industry to make raw material anyway so substituting bamboo it doesn't give you an environmental story." (source: FTC Workshop transcript.)

Then Kathleen Huddy of The Goodhousekeeping Research Institute took aim at the claims frequently made by designers and retailers of "green" fashion, including those associated with bamboo:

"Proof of substantiation is needed for all claims from ultimate absorbent to antifungal to very vague ones as eco sensitive, good for the environment, and my favorite, beneficial to those with allergies and sensitive skin. If you've got that claim, you better have [large gesture] this much data behind it to tell me that you have really reverend [no idea what this word was -- NWL] it and you can prove it." (source: FTC Workshop transcript.)

Pat Slaven of Consumer Reports batted clean-up and summed up the morning:

"A number of my colleagues have talked at length about rayon manufacturing. It's hardly benign. It includes pulp. Sodium hydroxide, sulfuric acid, disulfide, lots of water, lots of power. I could go on at length. It's really the topic of a textile 101 lecture, it may be a full course. But we'll spare you this. So the question is is this green washing. A number of the previous panelists have pulled the FTC definition of rayon. Nowhere in it do we define what types of cellulose go into the manufacture of rayon. It's not like [lyocell] that is a clearly defined different process that does have some advantages. Rayon can be made from pretty much any sort of cellulose. We've had a number of discussions on cotton [linters], wood pulp. I went to U.C. Davis, one of my colleagues was working on extracting it from rice and turning it to rayon...So in conclusion, the consumer is being led to believe that she's purchasing a green superior product. But the consumer is indeed purchasing is a cotton-rayon blend path towel. She's paying premium price for the honor. And the privilege. And what does she get? She's getting an ordinary bath towel that at best say bit softer than 100% cotton. We would like to see better labeling. Well, rayon, while stating that something's made from bamboo rather than rayon is misleading, this isn't necessarily a hazard to life and limb [as, say] an automotive rollover standard is but it affects the consumer's pocketbook. As long as consumers are spending more money for something with these claims, we should be seeing better labeling and we should be seeing better superior products." (source: FTC Workshop transcript.)

So there it is, friends. if you like rayon, go ahead and buy RAYON MADE FROM BAMBOO. But don't pay extra for it and don't be greenwashed into thinking that all bamboo is good for the environment.


patrick said...

If you did your research you would find that the Viscose process is not the only process employed to create bamboo fiber based yarn. There is an more Natural Process now being widely used to avoid the chemicals used in the Viscose process.

Jo Paoletti said...

Define "widely used" and identify the process you mean. The viscose process is by far the most commonly used, and unless there is some indication to the contrary (hang tag or other information), consumers should assume that materials labeled "100% bamboo" are in reality "100% rayon" manufactured using the viscose process.

The Textile and Wool Labeling Act defines rayon as "A manufactured fiber composed of regenerated cellulose, as well as manufactured fibers composed of regenerated cellulose in which substituents have replaced not more than 15 percent of the hydrogens of the hydroxyl groups." The source of the cellulose need not be specified, although bamboo producers may wish to add this information.