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USDA modifies green procurement program

May. 5, 2010 - 06:00AM   |  
By TIM KAUFFMAN   |   Comments

ORLANDO, Fla. The Agriculture Department is raising the bar on the amount of biological or agricultural material that must be included in products designated for federal purchasing preferences under the BioPreferred program, a mandatory purchasing program created in 2002.

The minimum amount of biobased material in the 4,500 products designated so far varies widely, from 7 percent in carpets to 95 percent for electrical transformers containing vegetable oil-based fluid. The soy-based lip balm handed out to GSA Expo attendees here contains at least 82 percent biological or agricultural material, although the cutlery served with meals can have as little as 48 percent biobased content and still be designated as BioPreferred.

Going forward, however, only products with some of the highest levels of biobased material will be included in the BioPreferred program. Agriculture is prioritizing its review of products that are on the waiting list for inclusion on the BioPreferred label to give preference to those with higher levels of biobased content, said Jeff Goodman, chief of Agriculture's environmental management division.

The Office of Management and Budget asked the department to approve products with higher levels of biobased content first to further the government's green procurement objectives.

In the past, the department has allowed products with little biobased material to be certified under the program because of concerns that requiring higher levels would degrade the quality of the products, making it unlikely that federal agencies would purchase them. Agencies must purchase BioPreferred-designated products where available, unless they cost significantly more or don't perform as well as traditional petroleum-based products.

"The performance of these products is key. If people are going to switch their buying habits, the products must perform at least as well as the products they're used to buying," Goodman said.

Agriculture already has applied the more rigorous standard to a group of products it proposed including in the BioPreferred program in February. The proposed products have higher overall levels of required biobased content than previously approved products, from 72 percent for disposable tableware to 95 percent for office paper, and mulch and compost materials.

Agriculture also will consider revising the minimum biobased content levels of current BioPreferred products as manufacturers demonstrate their products can still meet performance expectations with higher levels of biobased material.

Ford, for instance, has increased the percentage of soy-based foam in its vehicle seat cushions from 5 percent to 30 percent during the past several years by refining how the cushions are built.

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