Last week the Unites States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that it was proposing a new voluntary Bio-Preferred consumer product label which has the potential to be showcased on nearly 15,000 qualifying products in over 200 categories. The label will showcase those products that meet the requirements of a Biobased product and the USDA expects that most of these will “have a more benign effect on the environment, be biodegradable, and have lower disposal and cleanup costs than the fossil energy based products they will replace”.
According to the USDA, a Biobased product is a product that is composed of wholly or significantly of biological ingredients – renewable plant, animal, marine, or forestry materials. A Bio-Preferred designated item is one that meets or exceeds USDA-established minimum Biobased content requirements. The USDA believes that making products from biologically produced carbon containing material, rather than extracting new carbon from mines or wells, will enable them to better manage the carbon cycle, reducing the amount of new carbon released into the atmosphere.
One of the proposals in the 44 page bill (DOCID: fr31jy09-24) is the requirement for federal agencies to purchase Bio-Preferred products when the cumulative purchase price of the procurement items are more than $10,000. In addition, each federal agency must purchase the product at the highest content levels when they are available. This program however does not cover products that are considered “mature”. By that, the USDA means Biobased products that have been available since 1972. Items such as cotton shirts, towels, paper plates, and wood furniture are not eligible for the Bio-Preferred label and do not fit into the product label category. The primary reason cited is that the USDA wishes to spur new growth in the Biobased products industry and giving a preferred status to mature products will hinder new product growth and prevent competition with regards to the various governmental procurement programs. Individual companies can appeal this however, and any Bio-Preferred Label will be granted only on a case-by-case basis.
In order to qualify for the USDA Bio-Preferred label, a Lifecycle Assessment from a 3rd party organization following ISO 9001 procedures is required to verify the content of Biobased material in the product.
Regardless of whether you are for or against labels, one thing is certain and that is consumers are demanding to know more information about the types of products they purchase and what the effects are to their family and the environment. They are expecting complete transparency and verification by third party organizations, which is the only way that consumers can feel confident about the products they purchase. The Biobased label from the USDA is just the beginning and most of us predict that within a few years, environmental labels will be as common as the nutrition labels on food products. Get ready for the rise of the eco-label.