|Research & Regulations Catch up with Bamboo Textiles|
|Written by aatcc.informz.net|
|03 Sep 09|
You can find "bamboo" textiles anywhere from discount superstores to high-end retailers.
And the labels and claims associated with these products are as varied as the sources. For consumers and retailers, there has been little reliable information or guidance available on the validity of these claims. Fortunately, this is quickly changing.
Naming the Fiber
Fiber content is important to consumers. It is also important to governments, both in terms of protecting consumers and in assigning proper tariffs and quotas. Naming a fiber incorrectly can damage a company's reputation and result in heavy fines. So, how should we refer to so-called bamboo textile fibers?
Bamboo Fibers-the Real Thing
At a July 2008 workshop sponsored by the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Peter Hauser, North Carolina State University, did not think it was likely that items labeled as containing bamboo were made with such natural bamboo fibers. "According to the references I found, [this process] is probably not used very much now because of the time, labor, and cost in making yarn from this process." As of mid-August 2009, FTC staff had still not found any textile items containing actual bamboo fibers.
Hauser suggests bamboo may also be processed into lyocell fibers. The FTC classifies lyocell as a sub-category of rayon produced by organic solvent spinning. Lyocell fibers are also considered regenerated cellulose and would be labeled as lyocell.
So, unless the fibers are actually retted from the bamboo stalk, the label in most countries can NOT list bamboo in the fiber content. The label should indicate that the product is made with rayon (or possibly lyocell).
A Possible Compromise
Janice Gerde, US Customs and Border Protection, says, "So far, I have found research reports dating to the early 1930s, using various instrumental approaches. And the upshot for the studies that we have seen so far is that once the cellulose is simply cellulose, the source cannot be differentiated." She has first-hand evidence too. FTIR testing of samples labeled "bamboo" matched a reference spectrum for viscose rayon, with no identifiable variations.
The FTC demands "competent and reliable" evidence but does not define this evidence more specifically. Since there is no way to identify bamboo once it becomes rayon fiber, a manufacturer wishing to define its rayon as "made from bamboo" may have to provide evidence tracing its supply chain back to the plant source. Korin Ewing, FTC staff attorney, says the commission will make a case-by-case determination of what constitutes adequate evidence for the "rayon made from bamboo" label.
The bad news is that rayon manufacturing is not so environmentally-friendly. Strong chemicals are used to break down the cellulose. After the polymer forms, the chemicals need to be removed by multiple washes. Like most industrial manufacturing, the process requires high water and energy use, and produces air and water pollution.
Rayon is not considered biodegradable despite its natural origins. The FTC warns manufacturers to avoid such claims, stating that rayon products "will not break down in a reasonably short time after customary disposal."
Bamboo claims are not the only "green" statements currently under scrutiny. Ewing says there has been an increase in such claims, and in consumer interest in eco-friendly options. To help sort out the confusion, the FTC recently developed Green Guides. FTC Chair William Kovacic says the Guides are "a key element" to educate businesses and consumers. The FTC also hopes to "engage in a process of research so that we better understand what consumers are taking away from individual ads."
Gerde expressed similar misgivings. "We need to stop and consider what is the difference between the botanical entity which may convey beneficial properties, such as the antimicrobial properties, and what can convey with the cellulose from the bamboo once it has gone through commercial processing."
Research at the University of Georgia (UGA) may supply some of the answers. Ian Hardin, a professor in UGA's Department of Textiles, Merchandising and Interiors, presented his findings at AATCC's 2009 International Conference in Myrtle Beach, S.C. in March. Specimens commercially labeled as containing "bamboo" were tested for antimicrobial activity using AATCC Test Method 147. Fibers were microscopically and chemically analyzed in comparison to known bamboo and rayon fibers. Hardin's paper will be published in the October issue of AATCC Review.
|Last Updated on 03 Sep 09|