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As the environmental impact of products becomes a growing concern for consumers, the demand for renewably sourced materials has risen. The food service industry with its many disposable products is one that has been under scrutiny over its waste production and sustainability. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) launched its BioPreferred Program in an effort to promote biobased products across many different industries, including many food service products.
The USDA BioPreferred Program consists of two parts: the Mandatory Federal Purchasing and the Voluntary Labeling Program. The first mandates that federal agencies purchase products with a minimum biobased content in the designated product categories, and the latter is a way for businesses to differentiate their products that meet the same biobased content requirements to consumers with the USDA certified biobased label.
The USDA BioPreferred Program currently has 97 different product categories. Businesses wishing to apply for the Voluntary Labeling Program must submit all the required product information along with ASTM D6866 biobased content testing results showing their products meet the minimum biobased content set out by the USDA for that particular product category. The USDA definition of biobased products does not include food, feed or fuel. Biobased products should originate from plants and other renewable materials, including agricultural, forestry and marine materials.
The USDA mandates that the analytical standard ASTM D6866 is used to measure the biobased content for products applying to the Voluntary Labeling Program. ASTM D6866 measures the biobased content of solid, liquid or gaseous samples using carbon-14 testing. Any fossil fuel-derived material does not contain any carbon-14, whereas biobased material contains a known amount; meaning that the carbon-14 content is indicative of the biobased content.
One area that is often associated with concerns over waste and environmental impact is the food service industry, in particular all various disposable products that are used like cutlery and food containers. The USDA BioPreferred Program encompasses several product categories in this industry, these along with their minimum biobased content requirements and descriptions are summarized in the table below.
The USDA BioPreferred Program has also reported success stories from the food service industry through the use of biobased products. It has seen a reduction in waste as the disposable biobased products taken into use in the studies were also biodegradable. This meant that not only were the products renewably sourced, they also significantly reduced the amount of landfill waste produced.
The USDA has clarified that when considering food service containers, reusable items should be the first choice. However, if disposable food service containers are necessary, biobased products are great options as they are often made from agricultural materials such as cellulose, fiber crops like hemp and flax, bamboo and other grasses, agricultural waste such as bagasse or rice straw, starches and lactic acid. According to the USDA, biobased food service products are generally compostable, recyclable and biodegradable.
Miami-based Beta Analytic provides fast high-quality ASTM D6866 biobased testing in accordance with the USDA BioPreferred Voluntary Labeling Program.
In 2004 Beta Analytic joined the American Society for Testing Materials (ASTM) as co-author of ASTM D6866 for biobased content analysis. Beta Analytic is not affiliated with ASTM or the USDA BioPreferred Program. All inquiries about the program should be sent to the USDA. The lab welcomes inquiries on how to submit samples for testing as part of the Biopreferred Voluntary Labeling Program. For inquiries, please contact the lab.
United States Department of Agriculture. Date unknown. Product Categories. Available from: https://www.biopreferred.gov/BioPreferred/faces/pages/ProductCategories.xhtml (accessed July 2017).
United States Department of Agriculture. Date unknown. Success Stories. Available from: https://www.biopreferred.gov/BioPreferred/faces/pages/SuccessStories.xhtml (accessed July 2017).
United States Department of Agriculture. Date unknown. Product Category of the Month: Disposable Containers. Available from: https://www.biopreferred.gov/BioPreferred/faces/pages/ProductCategories.xhtml note for Disposable Containers (accessed July 2017).