Econundrum: Bamboozled by Bamboo?

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.


When I needed new sheets last year, I didn’t dream big: High thread counts are well outside my price range. So imagine my delight when I found bamboo sheets at my local Target. So soft! So cheap! And so sustainable: Bamboo is kind of an eco wonder crop, since it grows fast, absorbs more CO2 than most trees, and requires few pesticides. It’s also biodegradable and even naturally antimicrobial. I skedaddled out of Target in record time (phew), congratulated myself on this smart buy, and celebrated with a nap.

But last month, I had a rude awakening: I learned that my sheets are probably not as dreamy as Target claimed. Turns out most soft fabrics labeled bamboo are actually rayon, a synthetic fabric that can be made from the cellulose of any plant. In October, the Federal Trade Commission ruled that a company called, pricelessly, Bamboosa was not allowed to pass its bamboo-based rayon products off as “100 percent bamboo”—or claim they had bamboo’s ecobenefits. The reason: Once you turn bamboo into rayon, it loses its biodegradable and antimicrobial properties. Bamboosa has changed its label to “viscose derived from bamboo.” Cozy, huh?

My sheets aren’t as bad as some of the cheapo synthetics out there. Since rayon is derived from plants, it’s less carbon-intensive than fabrics made from petroleum (polyester, nylon, and acrylic, to name a few). But the chemical processes used to manufacture rayon can be awfully gnarly. Truly sustainable fabrics are hard to come by: Organic cotton is popular among ecodesigners, and while its water footprint is smaller than its conventional counterpart’s, it’s still not tiny. In general, determining a fabric’s environmental impact requires a little homework. Organic Clothing blog has a great ecoclothing glossary.

The bottom line: Don’t let fabric manufacturers pull the wool over your eyes: “Made from bamboo” often means rayon derived from bamboo, which isn’t as sustainable as pure bamboo fibers.

IT'S NOT THAT WE'RE SCREWED WITHOUT TRUMP:

"It's that we're screwed with or without him if we can't show the public that what we do matters for the long term," writes Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein as she kicks off our drive to raise $350,000 in donations from readers by July 17.

This is a big one for us. It's our first time asking for an outpouring of support since screams of FAKE NEWS and so much of what Trump stood for made everything we do so visceral. Like most newsrooms, we face incredibly hard budget realities, and it's unnerving needing to raise big money when traffic is down.

So, as we ask you to consider supporting our team's journalism, we thought we'd slow down and check in about where Mother Jones is and where we're going after the chaotic last several years. This comparatively slow moment is also an urgent one for Mother Jones: You can read more in "Slow News Is Good News," and if you're able to, please support our team's hard-hitting journalism and help us reach our big $350,000 goal with a donation today.

payment methods

IT'S NOT THAT WE'RE SCREWED WITHOUT TRUMP:

"It's that we're screwed with or without him if we can't show the public that what we do matters for the long term," writes Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein as she kicks off our drive to raise $350,000 in donations from readers by July 17.

This is a big one for us. So, as we ask you to consider supporting our team's journalism, we thought we'd slow down and check in about where Mother Jones is and where we're going after the chaotic last several years. This comparatively slow moment is also an urgent one for Mother Jones: You can read more in "Slow News Is Good News," and if you're able to, please support our team's hard-hitting journalism and help us reach our big $350,000 goal with a donation today.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate