Most dictionaries agree that to bamboozle someone is to deceive, defraud and hoodwink them. No one knows for sure where the word comes from. Some say it began with a Scottish word meaning to confound. Others say it’s from the French word for baboon, which means to make a fool of. Today, if you’re buying bamboo sheets or clothing because you think they’re made from natural bamboo fibers, you’ve been bamboozled, a word Sarah Zhang coined in her article How I Got Bamboo-zled by Baby Clothes.
Any fabric claiming to be made from bamboo is not a natural fabric.
The fabric industry labels rayon a semisynthetic, a natural raw material converted through a chemical process into a fiber that falls into a category between natural and synthetic. Rayon is a regenerated cellulose fiber made from wood, paper, cotton fiber or bamboo.
All plants, including bamboo, are made of cellulose, a fibrous substance that makes up the walls of plant cells. Because bamboo in its natural state is hard like wood and not soft enough to be a fabric, bamboo-derived cellulose is treated with carbon disulfide. The fabrics produced from bamboo are silky, soft and breathable because they are no longer bamboo – they are nothing more than common rayon.
How eco-friendly is the process of making rayon from bamboo?
Natural bamboo must be chemically treated to convert it into rayon. Cooking with harsh chemicals removes all of bamboo’s natural characteristics, just as it removes them from pine, spruce and hemlock trees, the primary sources of the cellulose used to make rayon. Sure, the raw materials are natural plants, but the processes used to convert them into finished fabrics are toxic – you know, malicious and harmful. The recovery rate of the toxins in most bamboo-to-rayon conversion factories is around 50%, which means that the other half of the carbon disulfide goes into the ground and the water.
What the heck is wood pulp?
Wood pulp is made from tree leftovers during the milling and sawing processes. The scraps are shredded, then broken down into cellulose fibers. To make rayon, the pulp from many different forest trees is cooked in chemical soups at high temperatures and pressures.
The Federal Trade Commission issued this press release in 2022: FTC Uses Penalty Offense Authority to Seek Largest-Ever Civil Penalty for Bogus Bamboo Marketing from Kohl’s and Walmart
Bogus is another word for counterfeit, fake, and false. The FTC sued retailers Kohls and Walmart for claiming dozens of their “bamboo” textiles are made using eco-friendly processes when the processes they use are actually eco-toxic.
In their Guide For the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims, the FTC says the use of the term eco-friendly in product claims misleads consumers into thinking that the product has far-reaching environmental benefits. They cite this textbook example:
Picture a laser printer in a bird’s nest, balancing on a tree branch and surrounded by a dense forest
Printed in green ink are the words “Buy our printer. Make a change.” Even though this product makes no direct environmental claims, it is clear the purpose of the images and words is to convince you that the product has far-reaching environmental benefits. The FTC’s conclusion: Unless the manufacturer can substantiate these claims, the advertising is considered deceptive.
Over at Good Housekeeping, Amina Lake Abdelrahman says “Don’t fall victim to greenwashing.” She says if you don’t know what’s going on, you have a greater risk of being misled by companies’ eco-friendly claims.
Just like sportswashing, the goal of greenwashing is to direct your attention to something else
Saudi Arabia invested billions in a world golf league, knowing doing so will improve their image in the eyes of many. Greenwashing is the strategy manufacturers use to convince us they are more interested in the environment than in profits or in telling us the truth about their products.
Bamboo is the largest grass in the world. The biggest varieties are a foot across and more than 100 feet tall. It’s the world’s fastest-growing woody plant, as much as four feet per day.
Bamboo’s hollow stems make it light and strong
Bamboo stalks are commonly called canes and poles and the anatomical term is culm. In its natural state (hard and fibrous), bamboo wood is used to make thousands of products, including flooring, furniture, serving trays, kitchen utensils, and sports equipment.
The exterior walls of bamboo stalks are sturdy wood and the interior is hollow
Early civilizations used bamboo troughs and pipes to channel water where it was needed to grow crops. Fishers used poles made from bamboo canes and jungle hunters made blowguns they used to kill small game and sometimes their enemies. Bamboo has such a high strength-to-weight ratio that it is still used as scaffolding today, a sight that never fails to amaze first-time visitors to modern Chinese cities.
So why do bamboo sheets cost more than rayon sheets?
It’s a good question because consumers have always considered rayon to be a cheap fabric and now rayon sheets that carry the bamboo label command premium prices. The raw materials are still bamboo, which is still chopped up into wood pulp and still slurried in a toxic chemical soup with half of the wastewater dumped. Only the name has changed.
Do you remember ValueJet? After their airliner crashed after taking off from Miami. killing 110 passengers and crew, they changed the name to AirTran. KFC’s name change removed the unhealthy “fried,” WW got rid of “weight” and BP removed “petroleum,” all looking to use a name change to make us think the bad stuff has gone away and the world is all kittens and buttercups.
Zhang says there is now a buying crush for those wanting eco-friendly fabrics. Wikipedia says retailers claim many things are made from bamboo to “cash in on bamboo’s currently eco-friendly cachet.”
You can tell if a product is eco-friendly by the label, right?
You’re joking, right? The FTC says companies that make eco-friendly claims must explain how and why the product is environmentally responsible, so if you don’t see such explanations, don’t trust the claims. Some brands take the shortcut of creating their own fake environmentally-friendly emblems, seals and certifications to put on their packages. The images are designed to catch your eye and imply deliberate falsehoods.
Other deceptive claims
Politico quotes James Kohm, associate director of enforcement in the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, as saying “Our job is to not say what’s good or bad for society, it is to make sure that people aren’t lying,”
Other eco-friendly terms that you should pay little attention to because they are so often abused by marketers are green, sustainable, and environmentally friendly.
Kohls and Walmart both marketed their bamboo-based products as “free from harmful chemicals, using clean, non-toxic materials.“ The FTC said they were lying and fined them $5.5 million. Many businesses have a different name for lying. They call it clever marketing. I think a better penalty would have been to make them substitute “eco-toxic” for “eco-friendly” on their packages and in new ads for as long as they ran their bogus ads.
Lynne Truss wrote a bestseller called Eats, Shoots & Leaves that deals with the importance of commas and other punctuation. Compare the meanings of the title of her book with the Bonus headline.
Bonus: Eats shoots and leaves
Pandas are members of the bear family. The lesser-known red panda is no bigger than a house cat while the better-known giant pandas weigh more than 200 pounds. Adult pandas eat from 24 to 84 pounds of bamboo shoots and leaves a day, according to worldwildlife.org. Britannica adds that pandas eliminate bamboo waste up to 50 times a day, including the seeds that propagate even more bamboo. The 2,000 pandas in the wild are found in only three of China’s 23 provinces. Another several hundred pandas live in zoos and breeding centers.