Bamboo has been touted as super absorbent and highly sustainable. Its quick growth rate and supposedly earth friendly processing led many to pay the often high prices of bamboo fitteds and inserts. I too got on the bamboo bandwagon impressed by its thirsty fibers and green reputation. Well as it turns out bamboo wasn’t exactly all that it was cracked up to be.
A few months ago a bamboo bombshell hit the cloth diapering world. The truth about bamboo was a shock to many who had felt that they were making an “organic” and ecofriendly choice by purchasing bamboo products. Imagine their confusion to learn that many natural bamboo products had very little separating them from their synthetic counterparts. The low chemical processing that had been publicized was far from the truth. Even if you don’t care about the Pandas having their supper, you can appreciate believing you are getting one thing only be told it is something very different after the fact.
The Fair Trade Commission recently released guidelines for companies choosing to use organic labels for their merchandise. Naturally the issue of bamboo was addressed. “The truth is, most “bamboo” textile products, if not all, really are rayon, which typically is made using environmentally toxic chemicals in a process that emits hazardous pollutants into the air. While different plants, including bamboo, can be used as a source material to create rayon, there’s no trace of the original plant in the finished rayon product.”(FTC)
According the FTC unregulated bamboo products that claim to be organic can have very low actual organic properties left and can still use the label. This can make purchasing that fancy diaper puzzling. How do you know if you are getting something that is organic or just paying inflated prices for rayon? Many cloth diaperers choose to use cloth because of the environmental impact of disposable diapers. Although we know that fleece and PUL are not natural we also know what we are getting. Families who specifically choose to use organic and natural diapers may be in for a surprise to learn that bamboo may actually be no better for the earth or the baby than synthetic fibers.
“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.”(FTC)
For the record I do have bamboo diapers and accessories. They are very absorbent and trim, but in the future I would like to know exactly what I am paying for. The FTC recommends not purchasing bamboo products unless the seller discloses what percentages of bamboo, rayon (polyester), and cotton, are found in the materials. This is a safeguard for those of us who want the trimness of bamboo but also want to make an informed decision. I have seen many products that are a bamboo cotton blend, the bamboo is not organic but the cotton is so that may be a happy medium for those looking to improve absorbency but to also respect our environment.
So what is the bottom line of bamboo? Bamboo is an amazing textile. It is trim and thirsty and makes a wonderful diaper fabric, and it is perfect for soft tees, towels, and sheets. If you are not overly concerned by the processing then I would say go for it, that being said don’t be sweet talked into overpriced rayon just because it looks organic, know your products and make a decision you are happy with.
Hint: Look for the Oeko-Tex certification when purchasing any natural or organic textiles.