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Is bamboo sustainable or a greenwashing story?

Is bamboo sustainable or a greenwashing story?

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What is greenwashing?

The world is on fire (literally and figuratively), so there's a growing demand for environmentally friendly products. While many companies are genuinely trying to offer sustainable alternatives, there are inevitably going to be some bad apples who try to take advantage (looking at you, Granny Smith).

Greenwashing is when a company exaggerates or fabricates claims about their environmental friendliness in an attempt to mislead customers.

Many producers and sellers of bamboo textiles are guilty of greenwashing.

bamboo is not sustainable

Act natural. Bamboo shoots pretending to be sustainable.

First, the good news

Bamboo grows really fast. In just four years, it can grow big enough to be harvested for it's cellulose-rich fiber.

Like other plants, bamboo absorbs carbon dioxide and produces oxygen (which is good because breathing is the best).

Bamboo doesn't require a lot of water or pesticides to grow big and tall.

The end result, "bamboo" dresses, shirts, pants, and bedding, is soft, smooth, and comfortable. You'll notice bamboo is in quotes. More on that later.

There is no bamboo fiber

Later is now.

There is no such things as bamboo fiber. It's most likely rayon or viscose, (which are interchangeable terms) made from random wood sources (and occasionally bamboo). 

According to the Federal Trade Commission (aka the FTC),

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.

We've covered the environmentally toxic process they're referring to here in a previous blog post.

To sum up, the chemicals carbon disulfide and sodium hydroxide are combined with wood pulp to make viscose rayon fabric or "bamboo." Only 50% of the chemicals used are reused, which means the other 50% find their way into the air and water. Needless to say, the process is extremely destructive and hazardous to the environment and to the people who make it.

Most bamboo is unverified

In December 2015, the FTC fined Nordstrom, Bed, Bath & Beyond, Backcountry, and J.C. Penney $1.3 million for mislabeling viscose rayon products as "bamboo."

In their view, it's a little like calling grape juice "grape juice" when there's almost certainly no grapes in it. (Time to crack down on Big Grape Juice, FTC.)

Unfortunately, those companies aren't alone. Many companies that offer bamboo products don't, won't, or can't substantiate their claims or verify the sourcing. (To be fair, it is very difficult to obtain this kind of information. See the next section on China.)

In order to call something bamboo, companies need to provide scientific tests and analyses to prove that it's made of actual bamboo fiber. So if the website is vague or says things like, "it's totally bamboo, trust us..." don't trust them.

Most bamboo rayon is made in China

Fun fact: the viscose rayon process is so dangerous, the EPA's regulations caused the last U.S.-based factories to shut down over a decade ago. So, who makes the most viscose nowadays? 

You guessed it (probably).

Most rayon is made in China (accounting for about 65% of the world output), a place infamous for having loose environmental standards and poor human rights records.

We know the viscose/rayon process is harmful, we just don't know the extent of the damage because these factories are like a black box. There's very little transparency and the fibers for any given "bamboo" product are not traceable to any particular factory, so claims made cannot be substantiated. 

Harvesting bamboo threatens pandas

Speaking of China, the World Wildlife Fund blames the threat to pandas on illegal logging and agriculture for bamboo.

why would anyone want to hurt a panda?

"Why must you hurt us in this way?"

Canopy, the forest-preservation non-profit, echoes this, saying, "Historically, clearing of the giant pandas’ natural bamboo forest habitat and food source led to the now iconic species becoming endangered."

While lessons were learned, forests are still cleared to this day in order to grow bamboo plantations. It should go without saying that clearing a natural or endangered forest just to plant bamboo isn't exactly environmentally friendly.

How can you know if it's genuine bamboo?

So, how can you know if the bamboo product you're buying is genuine?

In the majority of cases, products claiming to be made from bamboo are from random wood sources. Also, the percentage of bamboo input is not documented. Therefore it could be 10% bamboo and 90% wood and the company may still call it "bamboo."  This is, of course, illegal, but it's still practiced.

According to the FTC, genuine bamboo will say "mechanically processed bamboo" on the label or on the website. If it's not made directly from bamboo, it should say, "rayon from bamboo" or just "rayon."

Remember, regardless of the percentage of bamboo in a particular product, if it's made via the viscose method, it is chemically intensive and therefore environmentally destructive. Stay away.

Why our eucalyptus lyocell isn't an example of greenwashing

We're not like those other guys, we swear. Genuinely sustainable products, like Sheets & Giggles' bedding, back up their claims with facts and data.

Oh, hello. My name is eucalyptus lyocell and I'm sustainable. No, really.

So, here are some facts and data:

For one, the process of turning eucalyptus into a fiber really is a cleaner, greener, more sustainable process. Our closed-loop process reuses 99.6% of water and solvents – it's cleaner than cotton and certainly cleaner than viscose/rayon. But don't take our word for it, google it. Or do take our word for it.

The claims we make about our eucalyptus bedding are backed up by 3rd party scientific review and analysis. Our manufacturers are transparent and document their sourcing and resources via responsible forestry groups like FSC, PEFC, and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative.

Through our manufacturers, we employ a non-profit called Canopy to ensure we are protecting and conserving ancient and endangered forests.

And we use Roadmap to Zero to ensure there is no discharge of hazardous chemicals from the factory into the waterways, the soil, or into the air.

Overall, we try to be very transparent about our sustainability efforts in our messaging and on our website, but if there is something we didn't cover in this post or a question you have about our process, eucalyptus lyocell, or anything at all, please check our FAQs or reach out.

 our CEO, Colin, loves to answer emails
Colin loves reading and responding to your emails.

Try something cozier than cotton.

Try something cozier than cotton.

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6 comments

  • @A one thing I should mention is we’re including an additive to the polyester in our comforters that will make it 100% biodegradable. So keep an eye out for that. :)

    Chris on

  • @Chris S&G or your manufacturers personally pickup plastic bottles for your comforter? :D If they’re already recycled, then it’s melodramatic to say they would otherwise end up in a landfill or the ocean.

    If they were used as plastic containers instead of fabric, there wouldn’t be the millions of microfibers released into the ocean. At least one article I read claimed polyester from recycled bottles would release even more microfibers.

    So S&G tried 100% Eucalyptus with a higher thread count outer fabric, thicker comforter, or other organic natural fibers? Yes, there are oftentimes compromises, but the less green option seems like it should be the last option.

    A on

  • @A You quoted our entire polyester article from memory? Nice to have a fan :)

    For what it’s worth, our comforters use polyester from upcycled plastic bottles that would have otherwise ended up in a landfill or the ocean. We do not use virgin plastic anywhere, not even in our packaging.

    Sustainability aside, we tested comforters with 100% eucalyptus on the inside and others with 100% polyester, but the former was not warm enough and the latter was like a heated blanket. In the end, we went with a 50/50 eucalyptus and upcycled polyester blend that is warm and cozy but not roasting.

    I think the bigger question is, is there a perfect option? And the answer is almost certainly no. There are better options, for sure, but everything is a compromise. We suggest everyone do their own research and make their own choices. Are we biased? Yeah, obviously. But we genuinely believe eucalyptus lyocell is superior to other fabrics.

    Chris on

  • There is bamboo lyocell and closed-loop bamboo viscose that are more green than eucalyptus! Bamboo grows faster and requires less land & water.

    Nice fear mongering! Plus your own greenwashing in an anti-greenwashing article! Eye roll.

    A strategy I would expect from a company that uses polyester in their comforter!

    In S&G’s own words:

    https://sheetsgiggles.com/blogs/news/what-is-polyester-microfiber-just-the-worst

    “Polyester is a synthetic fabric that’s made from petroleum (so definitely NOT biobased certified like S&G).”

    “Guess you could say polyester is our PET peeve.”

    “From production through disposal, polyester has extremely harmful effects on humans, animals, and the environment.”

    “Polyester is hot and smelly

    Because polyester is basically plastic, it isn’t breathable or moisture-wicking like eucalyptus – polyester is actually billed as “hydrophobic,” aka afraid of water. This is why your polyester sheets trap moisture and therefore heat creating a “sauna effect” while you sleep. We definitely don’t recommend them if you sleep hot. 

    You’ll also notice that polyester and poly blends hang on to smells like they’re going out of style. Go ahead, smell your polyester workout clothes. This is also due to polyester’s hydrophobic qualities. If water can’t get in to clean your polyester sheets or clothing, how is it supposed to clean them? Really makes you stink, er, think. 

    Polyester is here for a long, long time

    Polyester takes hundreds of years to decompose – we don’t know exactly how long because polyester has only been around for 80 years or so. That means every piece of polyester you’ve ever owned–sheets, shirts, clown wigs–still exists somewhere on this planet.

    So, even if you have sheets or clothing that is a cotton/poly blend, it will inevitably end up in a landfill, become incinerated, or make its way into the ocean.

    Polyester and microplastics

    Many recent studies have shown that polyester sheds small pieces of plastic called microplastics with every wash. 

    Per wash, the average polyester sheet set will shed about 10 million microplastic fibers into our waterways…or over 120 million microplastic fibers per year if you wash your sheets at least once a month (which, you know, we really hope you do).

    These microplastics are filling our water and air, and are being ingested by marine life, animals, and even us. A 2017 study found microplastics in 83% of global tap water samples. 

    In fact, it’s estimated that we ingest a credit card’s worth of plastic every week. Every week. 

    Scientists know these microplastics (and nanoplastics, which are even smaller) affect the reproduction, immunity, and survival skills of fish…what they aren’t exactly sure of is how they’re affecting us. That’s pretty scary when you think about it."

    Nice! ROFL! I hope S&G buys a clue and moves away from the polluting, non-green product.

    A on

  • Thanks, Jared. Fixed it. Sometimes I mix up “your,” “you’re,” and “yore.”

    Also, crocodiles and alligators.

    Chris on

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