Several Ecolabels are used in different parts of the world. The European Union has a simple yet artistic Flower Ecolabel, Germany has its own Blue Angel, and the Scandinavian countries have their Nordic Swan. Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, China, Hong Kong, and Japan also have their Ecolabeling systems in place. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is launching a labeling system of its own. While most ecolabels consider the impact of the product or service to the environment in every stage of the product’s life – from raw materials to disposal, the USDA takes a different approach. The agency wants consumers, including U.S. federal agencies obligated to buy biobased products, to know the exact biobased content of the product’s content or its container.
Just like Europe’s Ecolabel, the USDA labeling system is voluntary and not exclusive to domestic companies. The European Ecolabel has strict environmental criteria whereas the USDA label focuses on the biobased content of the product. As long as the product complies with the minimum biobased content requirements established by the USDA, manufacturers and vendors of biobased products can apply to use this label not only on their products but also on their marketing materials. Other entities, like trade organizations and public interest groups, can also apply if they promote, sell, or use biobased products.
The USDA label aims to “promote the sale and use of biobased products in the commercial sector.” Through this label, the USDA also wants to encourage manufacturers to consider using or increasing the amount of biobased materials in their products. Unlike other ecolabels, the USDA BioPreferred label includes a statement disclosing the biobased content of the product and its packaging material.
The proposed USDA label consists of a logo with the phrase “USDA Certified Biobased Product” and a statement identifying the biobased content of the product (content and container) . The letters “FP” indicate that the product is within a Federally preferred designated item.
The USDA has established requirements on the label’s physical appearance to maintain its distinctiveness. Users can choose one among the three label versions created by the USDA; the three-color version is preferred. The label versions are: (1) a three-color version of the label artwork (white plus two shades of green – Pantone 356C and Pantone 362C); (2) a one-color version using one of the two greens specified; and (3) a black and white version of the label artwork with excellent contrast between the light and dark sections to keep the design recognizable.
The USDA BioPreferred Web site address must be on or in close proximity to the label. The Web site URL is not required to be on the label itself as some products are too small to accommodate the extra information.
Details on the artwork and other label requirements are found in the BioPreferred Proposed Rule as published in the U.S. Federal Register.
The USDA BioPreferred Voluntary Labeling Program is open to all products – domestic or imports – as long as they comply with the minimum biobased content requirements established in the BioPreferred Procurement Program if they fall under designated items. Products that do not belong to the designated items must be 51% biobased. Applicants to the program are required to submit an ASTM D6866 product certification.