In February the federal
government is launching voluntary labeling standards for products that contain
renewable resources, such as plastics made from corn.
A product may be labeled
"USDA-certified biobased," if it contains at least 25 percent material
derived from renewable feedstocks. The label does not apply to products developed
before 1972, such as paper plates that are derived from wood products.
Initial plans to require that
at least half of the product contain renewable materials were opposed by
manufacturers concerned about the costs of renewable feedstocks and potential
The action by the U.S.
Department of Agriculture (USDA) is important for design engineers, who now
have at least some guideline to determine the validity of a producer's
environmental claims. The program, however, does not provide information about
the life-cycle impact of biobased products.
Major producers of renewable
materials lobbied for the higher level, which would have boosted their sales.
DuPont, which has developed
polymers made with corn and other renewables, took a different tack.
"The release of the biopreferred
labeling standards will help consumers identify products with biobased
content," said Craig Binetti, president of DuPont Applied BioSciences. "This
will go a long way to making what used to be alternative products into easily
recognized, mainstream items."
DuPont products in this area
include Sorona engineering plastics, which are based in part on corn-based
In announcing the standard,
Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan said, "This label will make
those decisions easier by identifying products as biobased. These products have
enormous potential to create green jobs in rural communities, add value to
agricultural commodities, decrease environmental impacts and reduce our
dependence on imported oil."
announcement also includes
a biobased product procurement preference program for federal agencies. The USDA
has designated approximately 5,100 biobased products for preferred purchasing
by federal agencies.
USDA estimates that there are
20,000 biobased products currently being manufactured in the United States
and that the growing industry as a whole is responsible for over 100,000 jobs.