Biobased products are defined as non–edible, industrial goods that are made in whole or in part from biological and agricultural products such as vegetables, soybeans, fish, and plants. The category was established by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act (FSRIA) of 2002. According to Section 9002 of the FSRIA, biobased products must be federally procured within the framework set by the USDA. As required by law, products that fall under this classification are given favor by federal agencies.
What is the Vision Behind the USDA BioPreferred® Program?
The whole point behind the BioPreferred Program is to incentivize the development of products made from agricultural and biological matter. In doing so, the program hopes to spur job growth in industries committed to utilizing biobased content, and to expand the market for biobased products among today’s consumers.
What are the Requirements of a USDA Certified Biobased Product?
In order for a product to gain biobased certification, a list of regulatory steps must be followed in the order given by the USDA. Failure to perform the steps thoroughly and sequentially will render a product uncertified. There are 97 product categories recognized by the USDA that must satisfy a categorical minimum requirement level for qualification. All other products must pass a 25% biobased level to meet the requirements.
Are There Costs Involved With Product Certification?
Manufacturers are charged no application or certification fee to be in the BioPreferred Program, though companies must pay for product–label content testing during the initial application as well as each routine audit. As of 2016, the program has certified products from companies in 37 countries. Products can qualify from any nation that has a legal trade agreement with the U.S.
How Long Does it Take to Get a Product Certified?
Providing that an applicant answers inquiries in a timely manner, the entire process of approval — application, testing, and certification — usually takes only two months to complete. However, times can vary due to external factors. Each application is reviewed for accuracy and eligibility by UK multinational consultants Amec Foster Wheeler in partnership with the USDA. Outside laboratory testing for biobased contents is not accepted as a substitute for testing through the program’s protocol.
Can Identical Products from the Same Company be Jointly Certified?
If the same company manufactures multiple products with identical formulations, they might qualify as a product family, in which only one of the products would be required to undergo testing. However, any slight variation to the primary formula — such as a different color, mass, or scent — is disqualification for grouping under the family umbrella.
Can a Product Share Certification With an Identical Competing Product?
A product might not require testing if its contents are identical to a competing brand’s already certified product. The company seeking test–exemption status would need to apply for that designation, and it would be up to the competing product maker to decide whether to share its certification.
Are Companies Subject to Ongoing USDA Scrutiny Once Certification Has Been Granted?
The USDA maintains strict guidelines over the use of BioPreferred terminology on the web pages, advertisements, and marketing materials of certified products. If a company receives a warning about an apparent violation over one of its products, an immediate response must be addressed to the USDA on the matter. Otherwise, the company could have its product stripped of certification. On products that do acquire the USDA Certified Biobased Product label, the USDA does conduct regular audits to make sure that the products in question maintain the biobased content as listed.
Do Changes in Brand/Product/Company Name Affect Certification Status?
If the maker of a certified product changes its company, brand, or product name, the change must be filed online with the USDA, but this does not affect certification. However, if a company changes the formulation on a product following certification, the change must be described in detail to program staff. The reformulated product might be required to undergo new testing.
How do Biobased Product Manufacturers Find Federal Purchasers?
Once a product is certified, the next step is for the company in question to bring its product to the attention of government agencies for purchase. The USDA assists in this process through its BioPreferred Catalog, which lists all products that meet the requirements for federal repurchasing. Training programs also exist to help companies master the process of generating product sales at the federal level.
What Does Biobased Product Testing Ultimately Entail?
In order to ensure consumer confidence in the biobased contents of products bearing the USDA Certified Biobased Product label, testing is conducted in independent laboratories according to internationally accepted standards. Testing is done via ASTM D6866: an analytic method that uses radiocarbon dating to test particles, fluids, or gases of a given product for biobased content.
Is Biobased Certification the Equivalent of Green Certification and Ecolabelling?
Certification is not to be mistaken as an environmental seal of approval on a given product. The percentage of biomass listed on a product indicates the amount of organic contents contained within, but this isn’t to be read as indicating a higher degree of product reliability, safety, or eco–friendliness.
The main purpose of biobased manufacturing is to decrease the use of petroleum and the release of noxious gases into the environment. By encouraging formulations with greater biomass, the USDA hopes to steer the industrial sector over time towards productions with no ill–effects on the earth’s atmosphere.
Requirements for Federal Contractors Regarding Biobased Products
When it comes to product types that fall under the mandatory federal purchasing list, federal agencies are required to give biobased products precedence over inorganic variants. Reports on purchases of biobased products by federal contractors are collected by the System for Award Management (SAM), of which further information can be accessed at their website. Contractors are advised to report to SAM after each purchase. SAM’s fiscal year starts on October 1st and wraps on the following September 30th, and the reporting deadline for a prior year’s spending is October 31st.
Biobased Product Categories
Products that fall within the USDA’s 97 biobased categories cover a broad range of user needs; examples include liquid cleaning supplies, crop fertilizers, lubes, and bioplastics. In order to distinguish the goals of the BioPreferred program, raw biomass elements such as grains, soybeans, marine plants, forest residues, and fuel are not classified as biobased products.
Further product categories will be added to the federal purchasing list as more information is gathered on said categories. Decisions to this effect are handed down by the government and published in the Code of Federal Regulations, among other places.
Ongoing Goals of the BioPreferred Program
Since the passage of FSRIA, the USDA has furthered the initiative to promote biobased products with the BioPreferred program, which was advanced in the Agricultural Act of 2014 — alternately known as the “Farm Bill.” The BioPreferred program has two main initiatives:
- Mandatory federal purchasing requirements for biobased products
- Voluntary labeling on products with sufficient biobased content
Through the BioPreferred program, federal agencies and contractors can access training information to help in satisfying the requirements of the law. Participant funding is not offered through the BioPreferred program itself, but interested parties can apply for loans and grants through the Rural Development branch of the USDA.
BioPreferred Products: What They Mean for Consumers
As the concept of sustainability becomes more popular with the consumer public, the goal of the USDA is to offer an easy way for people to know which products are made in part with sustainable contents. With the USDA Certified Biobased Product label — which displays on products made by companies that apply for and gain USDA certification based on sufficient biobased content — consumers are guaranteed of a product’s use of renewable biomass elements. Products bearing the label are tested and retested at regular intervals for biobased content at third–party laboratories, and the USDA strictly monitors use of its BioPreferred labeling, all of which ensures the label’s authenticity.
Biobased Terminology: The Basics
In order to grasp the concept of biobased materials, consumers and sellers must understand the definitions of “bio” terminology:
- Biomass: flora and fauna within a given ecosystem, such as trees, coral reefs, fish, mammals, and fungi.
- Biobased material: any material or fluid derived either exclusively or partially from biomass elements. In manufacturing, the term most commonly refers to carbon–based materials.
- Biobased product: any product that includes a certain amount of biobased materials.
- Non–biobased product: any product with no percentage of biobased content.
How to Determine The Biobased Contents in Products
The biobased–content percentage of a given product is measured by subtracting the biobased carbons from the overall carbon content. The term “Percent Biobased” refers exclusively to the percentage of biobased materials in a product. Therefore, if an over–the–counter oil product has a Percent Biobased value of 55%, that means the other 45% is derived from non–biobased sources. For the most part, the current biobased industry is combining biobased carbons with petroleum–based elements in its products.
Content Calculations: Contents vs. Percentages
A calculation of biobased content is extracted from a product’s carbon percentage, but not the overall contents. Therefore, while the overall percentage of biobased content is altered by the ratio of carbon versus petroleum, the actual rating is based exclusively on the percentage of biobased material within the carbon itself.
Odd Calculation 1: High Carbon/Low Biobased Percentage
For example, a product might contain 70% carbon, only 2% of which is derived from biobased materials, in which case the product would be 2% biobased, while the remaining 98% would consist of 68% non–biobased carbon and 30% petroleum substances.
Odd Calculation 2: Low Carbon/High Biobased Percentage
On the other hand, a product could be 100% biobased yet contain only 2% carbon, simply because the carbon itself is derived exclusively from biobased substances. Likewise, a product might consist of merely 0.2% carbon but also be 100% biobased, because once again the carbon in question is thoroughly derived of biobased matter.
Troubleshooting for Biobased Chemical Suppliers and Product Makers
Due to the often unpredictable nature of petroleum elements, it’s not always easy to tell what the actual biobased content will be in a product. When a manufacturer makes the wrong prediction, there are basically three ways to rectify matters:
- Re–label the product to reflect the actual formulation.
- Locate the maker of the petroleum found in the raw contents.
- Measure each component in the formulation for biobased content.
If the intent is to make a 100% biobased product, and all the components are believed to be carbon derivatives of biomass, the percentage would be altered if petroleum is found in one of the components. The manufacture would then need to decide whether to adjust the formulation according to the new findings, or to find a biobased alternative to the component in question.
Benefits of Biobased Products in the Service Industry
BioPreferred products have been a big success in the numerous professions and service sectors in which biobased products have been adopted, shared, and utilized. Biobased food ware, for example, has proven popular at many universities, where plates and cups made of tapioca, potato starch, and grass contents have replaced polystyrene over the past decades. At the eco–minded University of Wisconsin in Green Bay, the food ware has allowed hungry students to get fueled, energized, and wired between classes without leaving mountains of non–biodegradable trash in their wake. According to estimates made at the outset of UW’s biobased food ware initiative in 2008, students were going through 18,000 cups and 50,000 salad containers per month.
BioPreferred Products: A Boon for Commercial Vehicle Maintenance
The turn towards biobased products has also been well–received in fleet maintenance, where oils derived from organic contents are not only advantageous to the environment, but for the health of workers who lubricate vehicle parts on a daily basis. In the mid–2000s, the fleet crew at Tennessee’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) switched to vegetable–derived oil to lubricate corroded auto parts. Turns out, the biobased oil could separate stuck–together parts as quickly and easily as any petroleum–based lubricant. Two years after ORNL made the switch, the facility estimated that it was using only five spray bottles of the biobased oil per year for maintenance on its 500–vehicle fleet.
The Ever–Expanding Market for BioPreferred Chemical Suppliers
Since the 2002 passage of FSRIA, the number of BioPreferred chemical distributors has grown as manufacturers come to understand and harness the benefits of biobased product making. As the world has turned increasingly toward renewable energy and waste elimination, sustainable chemical distributors have witnessed a growing demand across the industrial sector.
The Future for Sustainable Chemical Distributors
With biobased contents being added to everything from adhesives, deodorizers, repellents, and cleaners; to cutlery, tableware, carpets, and candles, the contents provided by BioPreferred chemical suppliers are reshaping the way that people clean, dine, and groom themselves. Over the next ten years, the market for oleochemicals and other organic contents is set for infinite expansion, as companies and consumers alike see the benefits of switching to biobased products in all areas of everyday living and production.