U.S. Launches Official Label for Bio-based Products

WASHINGTON, DC —  Products made with renewable materials in the U.S. now have a label they can carry to show their bio-based content.

A new program from the U.S. Department of Agriculture allows companies to certify how much bio-based content their products and packaging have, and show that on a special label.

The voluntary labeling program is an extension of the department's BioPreferred program, which previously focused just on highlighting bio-based products for preferential government purchasing. The BioPreferred program has so far identified 5,100 bio-based products for preferential purchasing, and the addition of the label program is expected to make it easier for federal buyers to seek out bio-based goods.

Products can carry the label if they contain a minimum of 25 percent content that falls under the wide swath of renewable plant, forestry, animal and marine materials.

The USDA received comments during the development of the program that criticized the low threshold and instead called for setting 50 percent as the minimum. The department responded that setting the bar lower will allow more products to be labeled in the hopes that the label will help sales and fund increases in bio-based content.

Along with calling out the bio-based content of products for federal purchasing purposes, the label also shows consumers if the product or packaging they're choosing has bio-based content.

Bio-based doesn't necessarily mean the best choice, though, depending on one's environmental concerns. An aluminum can obviously could not carry the bio-based label, but a plastic bottle made with corn could. The can, though, can be endlessly recycled while the bottle cannot. The bio-based label also does not specify what material is bio-based (however, in most cases it will likely be obvious) and does not mention if the bio-based content is genetically modified or not.

The labeling program excludes anything that falls into the category of "mature markets," which the USDA says covers anything that had significant market share in 1972. That leaves out things like cotton T-shirts and paper plates.

There is currently no fee for going through the certification process since the USDA has not yet received authority to impose one, but once it does, companies will have to pay $500 to apply.

Cornfield - CC license by ~MVI~ (41) (Flickr)