Author: Adrian Desbarats, May 17, 2010 — There was a recent ruling by the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) regarding bamboo clothing. When referring to bamboo clothing in this article, I refer to rayon from bamboo. And that distinction is the main thread of the FTC ruling.
In this ruling, the FTC requires that all bamboo clothing produced from regenerated cellulose must be labeled both on your web site and clothing labels as Rayon from Bamboo. Furthermore, unsubstantiated claims like “bamboo clothing is antimicrobial” or “bamboo clothing is biodegradable” are impermissible.
I have no problem with this new ruling. In fact, I herald it as an important step toward development of this fledgling sustainable clothing industry.
This ruling had little bearing on our company as we already advertised our bamboo clothing as being manufactured from regenerated cellulose produced from raw bamboo and we never made claims of anti-microbial capability.
This ruling will help bring accountability and credibility to the industry and will help clarify for the customer exactly what they are purchasing.
However, I take issue with certain additional statements by the FTC which take on a bit of a personal tone. One paragraph jumped out in particular:
“They (bamboo clothing) 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.”
The full press release can be read here: http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2009/08/bamboo.shtm.
I find statements like the above from an authority like the FTC disturbing.
I fully understand and respect the FTC’s purpose which is to protect consumers from false claims. However, I do believe they must do so in an unbiased manner and I truly question their impartiality in this case.
Yes, rayon from bamboo clothing is produced using using a chemical process employing harsh chemicals such as sodium hydroxide and carbon disulfide. But let’s put that in perspective.
Most of the bamboo used to make bamboo fiber and bamboo clothing is grown in China by Hebei Jigao Chemical Fiber Company. This facility produces virtually all viscose bamboo on the market. The raw bamboo is certified organic by OCIA (Organic Crop Improvement Association). In other words, the raw bamboo harvested by Jigao has never been touched by pesticides or synthetic fertilizers. To ensure organic certification, Jigao developed its own bamboo plantation in Sichuan Province keeping strict control over it.
All of the fiber produced at Jigao’s facilities is Oeko-Tex 100 certified. This certification ensures the staple fiber has been tested and regulated for a variety of chemicals that may be harmful to a person’s health and by default, to the environment.
Jigao is GB/T28001-2001 Occupational Health and Safety certified meaning the environment in which staff work is as safe as possible. Jigao is also SA8000 certified, a global social accountability standard which ensures decent working conditions.
Jigao also recycles as much of the chemicals as possible in the first part of the pulping stage, a process they hope to have certified.
Jigao is doing things right. Are they perfect? No, but who is? They are certainly miles ahead of conventional cotton production which uses pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. And I would argue that rayon from bamboo produced under these conditions is eco-friendly by a long shot when compared to conventional clothing or polyester fabrics.
Not even organic cotton production is perfect. It takes over 17,000 L of water to produce 1 Kg of cotton lint. An enormous amount of water in our new reality where water is at a premium.
Does that mean organic cotton is not environmentally friendly?
Of course not! Organic cotton and rayon from bamboo clothing are far better on the environment versus conventional cotton or polyester. Sustainable textiles are very new and although not perfect they will continue to improve providing the industry is supported and nurtured.
And that is why I find the unsubstantiated remarks by the FTC to be particularly disturbing as comments like that from a government body are not supportive.
Hopefully, individual consumers such as yourself will be able to view bamboo clothing for what it is – a valid eco-friendly clothing option.