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Bamboo Fabric NOT Eco-Friendly: Chemical Processing + Bamboo = Rayon

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If you're adding green to your closet by way of bamboo-fabric garments, hold up.

Although of natural, renewable origin, "bamboo textiles are essentially rayon, wood that is (chemically) liquified and extruded into a filament, then spun into thread and knit or woven into fabric," explains Lorraine Smith, a Toronto-based sustainability consultant. And that process essentially negates all the eco-friendly qualities of bamboo.

bamboo fabric not eco-friendly

In the U.S., the Federal Trade Commission recently charged four companies for making falsely green claims regarding bamboo-fabric products, and declared that "bamboo-based textiles, actually made of rayon, are not antimicrobial, made in an environmentally friendly manner, nor biodegradable."

In Canada, as of Sept. 1 textile dealers must label bamboo-derived fabrics as rayon, rayon from bamboo or other terms depending on the chemical process to create it. The exception is bamboo linen, which is mechanically processed in a way similar to linen made from flax, and much more expensive than bamboo rayon.

"Knowing the difference between bamboo rayon and bamboo linen is important," says Kelly Drennen, president of Fashion Takes Action, an industry sustainability education and resource group. "There's a difference between knowingly 'green washing' and coming by it honestly. I think many bamboo-based businesses had no idea how the fabric is made, or that it really isn't eco-friendly."

The new labelling rules are a positive move, say both Smith and Drennen. "It's always a good thing when people know more about where stuff comes from," says Smith.

biodegradeable vs recycleable

As to biodegradability, Smith doesn't see it as a true measure of green. "To suggest biodegradability is an 'eco-friendly' attribute suggests that once the consumer is done with it they can just hang it outside on their hedge for a while and it will gently merge with the natural world," she points out. "Of course that's not how it works. Non-biodegradability is a more eco-friendly aspect if it means the item can be recycled more effectively."

A version of this story appeared in today's Metro News.