August 16, 2009

Have You Been Bamboozled by Bamboo Fabrics?

an August 2009 "Consumer Alert" from the FTC (updated 8-30-09)

"Looking to be a more environmentally conscious shopper? You’ve probably heard about bamboo. Bamboo stands out for its ability to grow quickly with little or no need for pesticides, and it is used in a variety of products, from flooring to furniture. But when it comes to soft bamboo textiles, like shirts or sheets, there’s a catch: they’re actually rayon.

The Federal Trade Commission, the nation’s consumer protection agency, wants you to know that the soft “bamboo” fabrics on the market today are rayon. They are made using toxic chemicals in a process that releases pollutants into the air. Extracting bamboo fibers is expensive and time-consuming, and textiles made just from bamboo fiber don’t feel silky smooth.

There’s also no evidence that rayon made from bamboo retains the antimicrobial properties of the bamboo plant, as some sellers and manufacturers claim. Even when bamboo is the “plant source” used to create rayon, no traits of the original plant are left in the finished product.

Companies that claim a product is “bamboo” should have reliable evidence, like scientific tests and analyses, to show that it’s made of actual bamboo fiber.

8-30-09: The FTC charged four sellers of clothing and other textile products with deceptively labeling and advertising these items as made of bamboo fiber, when they are made of rayon. The complaints also charge the companies with making false and unsubstantiated “green” claims that their clothing and textile products are manufactured using an environmentally friendly process, that they retain the natural antimicrobial properties of the bamboo plant, and that they are biodegradable. Three of the companies – Sami Designs, LLC, doing business as (d/b/a) Jonäno; CSE, Inc., d/b/a Mad Mod; and Pure Bamboo, LLC – have settled the FTC’s complaints, agreeing to stop making the false claims and to abide by the Commission’s Textile Fiber Products Identification Act (Textile Act) and Rules. Litigation continues against The M Group, Inc., d/b/a Bamboosa, and its principals.

According to the Commission’s complaints, the companies falsely claim that their rayon clothing and other textile products are “100% bamboo fiber.” They market them under such names as “ecoKashmere,” “Pure Bamboo,” “Bamboo Comfort,” and “BambooBaby.” Rayon is a man-made fiber created from the cellulose found in plants and trees and processed with a harsh chemical that releases hazardous air pollutants. Any plant or tree could be used as the cellulose source – including bamboo – but the fiber that is created is rayon.

The complaints also allege that these four companies make a number of other “green” claims about their clothing and textile products, none of which are true or substantiated. All four companies claim their products retain the bamboo plant’s antimicrobial properties. The settling companies – Jonäno, Mad Mod, and Pure Bamboo – also claim that their products are made using environmentally-friendly manufacturing processes, and both Pure Bamboo and Bamboosa make unqualified claims that their products are biodegradable, and that they will completely break down and return to the elements found in nature in a reasonably short period of time after customary disposal.

As the Commission charges, even if the rayon used in the companies’ clothing and textile products is manufactured using bamboo as the cellulose source, rayon does not retain any natural antimicrobial properties of the bamboo plant. The rayon manufacturing process, which involves dissolving the plant source in harsh chemicals, eliminates any such natural properties of the bamboo plant. Similarly, the Commission charges that the companies’ clothing and textiles are not made using an environmentally friendly process.

The rayon manufacturing process uses toxic chemicals and results in the emission of hazardous air pollutants. And, despite the claims of Pure Bamboo and Bamboosa, the Commission charges that these rayon products are not biodegradable because they will not break down in a reasonably short time after customary disposal. Most clothing and textiles are disposed of either by recycling or sending to a landfill. Neither method results in quick biodegradation.

The FTC also charges three of the companies – Jonäno, Mad Mod, and Pure Bamboo – with violating the Textile Act and Rules by advertising or labeling their products without disclosing where the products were manufactured.

The proposed orders do allow the companies to describe their products as “rayon made from bamboo,” as long as this is true and can be substantiated.

So . . . caveat emptor.