By David Gill
Recent actions by the Federal Trade Commission point toward changes in the labeling of products made with bamboo.
According to an FTC statement issued last month, the commission issued letters to 78 U.S. retailers and manufacturers warning that they may be breaking the law by selling textile products that are labeled and advertised as “bamboo,” but that actually contained manufactured rayon. The statement also said the companies have been warned against making eco-friendly claims about bamboo fibers—which are produced using harsh chemicals that release air pollutants, the statement said.
Failure to properly label and advertise these products violates the FTC Act and the commission’s Textile Rule, the FTC said.
Among the higher-profile recipients of the letter were Walmart, Target, Bed Bath & Beyond, Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s, J.C. Penney, Sears, Kmart and Kohl’s. The FTC said that last year, it brought action against four companies—Pure Bamboo, a maker of apparel and other textile products; Sami Designs, an apparel manufacturer; CSE Inc., which produces textile fibers; and Bamboosa, another apparel manufacturer—for mislabeling their products as bamboo. All four companies have since settled their cases with the commission, the FTC said.
According to one executive with a fiber manufacturer, the significance of the FTC warning is that it will force a number of textiles vendors to relabel their products or face the penalty—which, according to the FTC statement, could involve a fine of up to $16,000 for each violation.
“Many companies have introduced rayon into their line that they claim to be made from bamboo,” the executive said. “Most of these companies would have difficulty documenting that it is truly bamboo.”
FTC attorney Korin Ewing said companies must document that their products are made with bamboo using “competent, reliable scientific evidence” derived from “tests, analyses, research, studies or other evidence from relevant experts.”
This also applies to labeling or advertising based on bamboo’s supposed eco-friendliness. The process of producing bamboo fiber is conducted in parts of the world “where there is very little attention paid to what the process does to the environment,” the executive said. “A lot of harsh chemicals are used to make rayon in these areas. Actually, the only thing sustainable about bamboo is that it comes from a tree, which can grow back.”
The same goes for bamboo fiber’s supposed anti-bacterial and anti-microbial qualities, which have never been proven from any scientific data, the executive said.
Bamboo fiber has gained a place in the manufacture of bedding and towels, where it is used by itself or in a blend with cotton. At the recent Las Vegas Market, a number of manufacturers of mattresses had new products with ticking purportedly made of bamboo.
An executive with a bath-products company said the market for bamboo fiber products has developed mostly among younger consumers who are looking for environmentally friendly products.
“The big problem with bamboo is there is no test for its molecular structure,” the executive said. “Anything will test as cellulose, and bamboo is another cellulose fiber.” While the executive said the company is “confident” that its towels contain bamboo, it has changed its labeling to avoid any legal action.
The fiber company executive said, “Everyone (who offers these products) will have to switch gears, and it’s a big gear switching for the industry. Retailers will have to change their signage and point-of-sale materials. Manufacturers will be required to change their labeling and advertising. It will mean a massive effort for everyone involved.”