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Biobased products are becoming preferred as the world turns away from all things petroleum-based. As consumers and businesses look for more sustainable alternatives to items usually made from plastic, USDA-identified biobased products exist in 139 categories of goods—except for food, fuel, and feed.
The USDA also has a BioPreferred program under the 2002 Farm Bill. This database is a sourcing guide for businesses seeking certified biobased products to use or sell and a mandatory procurement program for all government agencies and their contractors.
But what are biobased products, and how are they regulated in the US and EU? Let’s have a look.
What are Biobased Products?
Biobased products, put simply, are items made wholly or in part from biological materials like plants and other renewable raw materials from agricultural, forest, or marine sources. Biobased products do not use as much energy or water or produce as much toxic waste as chemical or petroleum-based products. They are more eco-friendly, and many are biodegradable in various disposal environments.
USDA biobased certification allows consumers and businesses to gain transparency into the products they purchase and use and make more ecological and socially responsible choices.
Among the most common biobased products you’ll see on store shelves, you’ll find:
- Detergents and cleaning fluids
- Lubricants, oils, waxes
- Packaging materials
- Furnace filters
- Household items
- Personal care products, cosmetics
- Medical supplies
- And more
Since the USDA certification and labeling is voluntary, you won’t always see the designation on the packaging. However, certification and labeling beyond what’s required to qualify are becoming a way for consumers to differentiate and make better-informed choices.
USDA Regulations and Tips / BioPreferred Program
The BioPreferred Program was created to stimulate product innovation and increase the use of biobased raw materials to reduce reliance on petroleum and mitigate the environmental impact of its use.
Certification gives consumers confidence that the products they’re buying are what they promise on the label. We live in a time when greenwashing—when products appear sustainable but are not—is as rampant as the desire to make better choices.
Manufacturers that go biobased stand to gain market share and consumer trust. Certification is a way for companies to show their commitment to change.
Raw materials, products, and packaging can be biobased. Manufacturers use third-party testing to verify materials used and to certify the percentage of biobased ingredients in the final product.
For example, a certified biobased product is not always made from 100% biobased materials. The minimum percentage for certification is 25%. Packaging and product can be tested and disclosed on the label separately.
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About the BioPreferred Program
One aspect of the BioPreferred program is a voluntary labeling protocol for biobased products. The other is a federal purchasing program that mandates biobased product purchasing for government agencies and federal contractors. Federal purchasing is highly specific regarding the percentage of biobased materials that must be included in each category.
Manufacturers may choose to undergo third-party testing and submit an application to certify their biobased products. The USDA strictly oversees the process to ensure claims made on the label are accurate.
USA General Regulations
As biobased products gain ground in our daily purchasing lives, it’s important to note that the US and other countries’ labeling and testing regulations are not the same.
In the United States, biobased products must be independently tested and certified to be labeled with a biobased certification and fall under one of the 139 identified categories. Novel products can also qualify, but testing must show at least 25% biobased materials per the ASTM D6866 standard.
Biobased products and materials must be tested in an ISO 17025-accredited lab. The USDA actively advocates for manufacturers and offers support to help companies complete the certification process successfully. Funding may be available at the state level or through the US Rural Development Program.
The European Union’s (EU) regulation on promoting and using biobased products is not legally binding. Some laws aim to achieve specific objectives, such as eliminating single-use plastics and plastic bags, but like in the US, biobased product labeling is voluntary.
Labeling a product as biobased means that it must be certified by an approved body to ensure it meets the EU’s sustainability standards per the Circular Economy Action Plan of 2020. The criteria and policies outlined in the new framework are designed to clarify definitions of compostable, biodegradable, and biobased plastics, what applications they should be used for, their environmental impact, and how they should be disposed of.
To achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, the European Commission’s objective is that a minimum of 20% of carbon in plastic and chemical products must be from sustainable, renewable, non-fossil sources.
Biobased product labeling is a step towards fostering a bioeconomy in Europe. It promotes the use of renewable resources, reduces environmental impact, and provides consumers with the necessary information to make conscious purchasing choices.
This Regulation is another indication of the EU’s commitment to sustainable development and its goal of becoming a leader in the circular economy.
How Greenprint Abides
Greenprint Products were developed to foster a sustainable ecosystem in single-use disposables. We are committed to growing toward a circular economy with efficient manufacturing, zero plastic packaging, and sustainable strategies for product disposal.
Whether you are a business owner or a consumer, you make choices each day in what to buy—and, more importantly, what not to buy. USDA biobased certification guarantees that the manufacturer’s labeling claims are verified so you can purchase with confidence.
We’re all doing our bit for the planet each and every day. This is just one more way to do it.