“Would bamboo by any other name biodegrade as well?”

It’s a tough environment out there for environmental marketers.  Even makers of an innovative bamboo-derived fabric, Bambosa, can’t make a seemingly slam-dunk green marketing claim without close scrutiny from the FTC.  Is the FTC splitting hairs…or fibers?  Hardly.

The Federal Trade Commission announced a settlement in October 2009 with The M Group (the makers of Bambosa) which alleged the company falsely claimed its rayon products are made of bamboo fiber, retain bamboo’s antimicrobial properties, and are biodegradable. According to the FTC:

Just because bamboo is green does not mean that companies who purport to make clothing and other textiles from processed bamboo can make unsupported “green” claims.

The FTC took exception with The M Group’s claim that fabrics made from Bambosa fibers retained bamboo’s natural antimicrobial properties.  According to the FTC, rayon fibers derived from cellulose from bamboo do not retain any natural antimicrobial properties of the plant.

Further, however, the conversion process involves harsh chemicals that remove any antimicrobial properties while releasing hazardous air pollution. Clearly the FTC believes the ends (a “green marketing claim”) do not justify the means.

The M Group agreed that it will not make any future bamboo claims unless they are true and backed by reliable evidence, and that it will no longer claim that the clothing and bath products it sells are made of bamboo fiber – when they actually are made of rayon processed from bamboo plants.

The FTC also recently took actions against three other products labeled biodegradable because, in reality, they were unlikely to have the opportunity or even ability to break down.   The companies that make the affected products – Sami Designs, LLC, doing business as (d/b/a) Jonäno; CSE, Inc., d/b/a Mad Mod; and Pure Bamboo, LLC – all subsequently settled the FTC’s complaints and agreed to stop making the false claims.

The Commission’s logic is that these rayon products are not biodegradable because they will not break down in a reasonably short time after customary disposal.  Most clothing and textiles are disposed of either by recycling or sending to a landfill. Neither method results in quick biodegradation.