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USDA Announces Green Labeling Program

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 processing limitations.

USDA Announces Green Labeling Program
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 feedstocks.

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."

The BioPreferred 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.
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