The demand for eco-friendly materials is rising throughout the composites industry. Until now, many industry firms that offer biobased products made from biological or renewable agricultural materials have relied on company marketing strategies to promote green initiatives. This is no longer the case. At COMPOSITES 2012, Ron Buckhalt, manager of the BioPreferred Program at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), will explain why.

Ron Buckhalt, manager of the BioPreferred Program at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)

Ron Buckhalt, manager of the BioPreferred Program at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)

How did this program begin, and why?

The BioPreferred program was created by the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 (2002 Farm Bill), and expanded by the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 (2008 Farm Bill). We focus on working with the federal government to promote the availability and adoption of biobased composites in products used by federal agencies, public and private businesses, and the mass consumer market. The overall purpose is to more clearly identify biobased products for all buyers, and to promote the increased sale and use of biobased products in the commercial market and for consumers. Essentially, we certify and award labels to qualifying products to increase consumer recognition of biobased products. This is really about increasing the amount of environmentally friendly content and new-carbon products in the marketplace. The BioPreferred Program is designed to empower the consumer to take into account that a product or package contains a verified amount of renewable biological ingredients. The label is a key way composites companies can say their products meet or exceed USDA standards for a certain amount of biobased content.

Can you talk about the significance of the label itself?

The USDA Certified Biobased Product label assures the consumer that a product or package contains a verified amount of renewable biological ingredients. Only by choosing biobased products labeled “USDA Certified Biobased Products” can the consumer be assured that the USDA and the federal government stand behind the accuracy of the claim that the product contains biological ingredients in the amounts stated on the label.

What is the impact of biobased products — are they always “better” for the environment?

Usually, because many of the biobased products on the market today are biodegradable and have lower disposal and cleanup costs than the fossil petroleum-based products they replace. It’s a good question, though, because a USDA-certified biobased label is not a guarantee or expression of environmental impact. There is an expectation that the increased use of biobased products will help reduce petroleum consumption by increasing the use of renewable resources, thus reducing the amount of new carbon released into the atmosphere, helping to better manage the carbon cycle and therefore reduce negative health impacts.