What is a Biobased Product?
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines a biobased product to be "a commercial or industrial product that is composed, in whole or in significant part, of biological products." Biobased Products are often considered by the EPA as Environmentally Preferable which means that the products will have fewer or no negative effects on human health or the environment when compared to conventional products used for the same purpose.
What is in a Biobased Product?
Generally, biobased products contain materials from plants such as soybeans, corn, cotton, and wheat. Other products may include materials from milk, citrus fruits, seeds, vegetables, tree oils or other agricultural products.
Who Must Purchase Biobased Products?
The USDA states that "Section 9002 of the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 requires Federal agencies to purchase biobased products recognized by the USDA's BioPreferred program."
Where Can I Find Biobased Products?
Depending on the product you are looking for, many retail chain stores carry biobased products. Key items to look for are the EPA's "Design for the Environment" label for cleaners and the CRGI's "Greenwise" label for paints. Both of which were designed to aid you in finding environmentally-preferred and health-conscious products that often use biobased products as a base.
The USDA's new BioPreferred label means that "the product meets or exceeds USDA standards for the amount of biobased content, and that the manufacturer or vendor has provided relevant information on the product at the BioPreferred Web site."
Why use Biobased Products?
The use of biobased products in the home has the potential to help improve indoor air quality. Although there may be differences from product to product, most biobased products follow general health standards:
- Products have reduced or no carcinogenic1, mutagenic2 or teratogenic3 potential,
- have reduced exposure to toxic chemicals,
- aide in the reduction of asthma attack incidents caused by dust and chemical allergens,
- show reduction of sensory irritation of the eyes, nose and throat,
- have low or no VOC4 content that can result in reduction of skin irritation, chemical burns, headaches, fatigue and nausea for those with direct contact with the products, and
- safer to use in closed spaces - contain little or no hazardous fumes that cause cancer or general damage to lungs.
Examples of Biobased Ingredients
Just a few examples of biobased ingredients could include:
- orange oil
- seed oils (cottonseed, olive or canola)
- methyl soyate
- corn starch
- polylactic acid
Ingredients to Avoid
Some common examples of VOCs4 are:
- Ethylene glycol
- Methyline chloride
While there are many direct health issues associated with conventional cleaning, carpeting and painting products, it is important to consider the indirect health effects associated with hazardous products. What we feed into our environment can affect our water, earth and air which give all products indirect access to our health. Some examples of how biobased products benefit our environment:
- generally safer and often biodegradable,
- reduced costs in proper disposal of leftover product,
- reduced emissions from petrochemicals,
- minimized emissions of carbon dioxide, and
- biological resources are renewable, meaning they can be used without depleting natural resources.
The use of biobased products also inherits a host of other benefits:
- increases the national benefits - when used from agricultural stock, it helps to invest in local farming communities in the U.S.,
- reduces the U.S.'s reliance on imported petroleum products (even common household dishsoaps require petroleum),
- safer to produce than petroleum-based products,
- reduced disposal and cleanup costs, and
- stimulates the American economy not only in agriculture but in the scientific community.
It is important to take note of all directions accompanied with biobased products. Some products may need to be used, applied or treated differently from traditional products. For example, some cleaning products may need to soak in before cleaning and used with a more astringent brush to remove build-up. However, most cleaners will work just as well or better than conventional products while improving your health and environment.
1 Carcinogenic - cancer-causing
2 Mutagenic - causes genetic mutation
3 Teratogenic - causes malformation of developing fetus
4 VOC - volatile organic compound