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August 25, 2022

From Our Library Drawers: What does the Biopreferred Label Mean?

We’re bringing you the latest research from the Donghia healthier Materials Library in a new blog series, From the Library Drawers.

It is not easy to figure out what is in a biomaterial. One reason is that manufacturers want to retain their proprietary information. They have spent millions of dollars and years researching and developing new materials and do not want to give their information away for free. To help consumers understand these new products and manufacturers preserve their intellectual property, the U.S. The Department of Agriculture created the BioPreferred certification.

Biopreferred.gov defines biobased products as “derived from plants and other renewable agricultural, marine, and forestry materials and generally provide an alternative to conventionally petroleum derived products.”1 The BioPreferred Program was created by the 2002 Farm Bill and expanded as part of the 2018 Farm Bill. The Program aims to increase the use of biobased products, which would create new jobs, provide new markets for farmers, and decrease America’s dependence on fossil fuels. Our podcast, Trace Material, investigated how the 2018 Farm Bill radically changed the New York State agricultural marketplace in the season 1 episode, Booms, Bills and Busts. Listen here.

The Biopreferred certification is entirely voluntary. A manufacturer must seek it out and apply. Suppose a company wants to have their product certified as Biopreferred. To do this, they must have it tested and verified by a third-party and meet the minimum biobased content requirements established by the USDA.2 Here is where it gets a bit confusing for consumers: each product category has different minimum biobased content requirements, and there are currently 139 product categories. Biobased carpet, for example, needs only 7% bio content, while lumber is required to have 25% bio content. However, the minimum percentages can be much higher for other categories. Wallpaper requires 62%, and shaving creams must have 92% bio content. Since the minimum percentages vary widely, the Biopreferred label can mean many different things according to the product category. If a product does not fit in any of the 139 established categories, the minimum requirement is 25%.

As we pointed out in our last blog post, it is important to recognize that just because a product has a Biopreferred Label, it does not mean that it’s necessarily healthier. There are many examples of products made with biobased content that also contain toxics. Nevertheless, it’s good to understand how the United States Department of Agriculture prioritizes “biobased” materials.

Healthy Materials Lab includes the Biopreferred Label as one of the metrics in our material collections. Make sure you’re signed up to our mailing list to find out when collections are updated, or new collections are released.

1. https://www.biopreferred.gov/BioPreferred/faces/pages/FAQs.xhtml

2. The USDA defines “biobased content” as the ratio between new organic carbon to total organic carbon. New organic carbon refers to that derived from plants and other agricultural materials, whereas total organic carbon refers to new + old organic carbon. Old organic carbon comes from petroleum. The amount of new organic carbon factors into a products sustainabilty attributes. https://www.biopreferred.gov/B…

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