The Institute for Local Self-Reliance is identifying and promoting policies and campaigns to encourage the development of sustainable plastics. As part of this work we are coordinating the Sustainable Biomaterials Collaborative, a network of diverse organizations working to spur the use of biomaterials that are sustainable from birth in the fields to production, use, and recovery.

Policies and campaigns to promote better plastics include:

Bans on Polystyrene

Bans and Fees on Single-Use Plastics

Anti-PVC Campaign

Product Procurement

Biobased Products Procurement

Sustainable Biomaterials Collaborative

The Sustainable Biomaterials Collaborative (SBC) is a network of organizations working together to spur the introduction and use of biomaterials that are sustainable from cradle to cradle. The Collaborative seeks to advance the development and diffusion of sustainable biomaterials by creating sustainability guidelines, engaging markets, and promoting policy initiatives.

The SBC principles, key documents, resources and a list of the current 15 organizations that comprise the Collaborative, are available at

The Collaborative is working closely with businesses and organizations to develop “BioSpecs,” purchasing specifications for sustainable biobased products. The first Biospecs are slated to be released September 30th and focus on compostable biobased food service ware products.

Federal Biobased Products Preferred Procurement Program

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has a major BioPreferred Purchasing effort underway. While this program is not promoting sustainable agriculture or plastics per se, it is promoting biobased products over products made from fossil-fuel materials.

In 2002 Congress instituted a law that mandated the development of a biobased preferred procurement program for Federal Agencies. The law requires Federal Agencies, defined by the USDA as “Any executive agency or independent establishment in the legislative or judicial branch of the Government (except the Senate, the House of Representatives, the Architect of the Capitol, and any activities under the Architect’s direction)”, to purchase biobased products, including plastics, as opposed to fossil energy based products, where “the Federal agency purchases $10,000 or more worth of one of these items during the course of a fiscal year, or where the quantity of such items or of functionally equivalent items purchased during the preceding fiscal year was $10,000 or more. The $10,000 threshold applies to Federal agencies as a whole rather than to agency subgroups such as regional offices or subagencies of a larger Federal department or agency”.

This law was instituted because increased demand for biobased products is believed to decrease dependency on foreign oil, reduce negative environmental impacts and promote economic development through new investment, job formation in rural areas (agricultural processing and manufacturing) and new markets for farm commodities. The U.S. Department of Agriculture designates which items will be part of the procurement program.

The selection process, briefly, involves the following procedure:

  1. USDA gathers data and vendors volunteer information on products.
  2. USDA analyzes this information and proposes guidelines for each generic grouping of biobased products considered. These guidelines include such information as the minimum biobased content required in a product to qualify for the program.
  3. The guidelines are made public and comments are accepted for a 90 day period.
  4. The guidelines are revised and made official.

The procurement program is a great boost for biobased plastics, but unfortunately it has several limitations in terms of spurring truly sustainable bioplastics. The limitations include:

  • Lack of criteria to ensure recycling or composting of certain products,
  • Indirect support for nanoparticles and nanotechnology ignoring outstanding public and environmental health issues,
  • Support for products with low levels of biobased material, discouraging technological innovation to produce products with higher levels of biobased content,
  • No criteria for spurring more sustainable agricultural practice

State Level Procurement

Midwestern Governors Association establish Bioproduct Procurement Program

Ohio Biobased Product Procurement Program, effective May 2010.

  • On February 27, 2010, Governor Strickland signed S.B. 131, making it the first state in the USA to have a biobased products procurement program. All state agencies and state-supported colleges and universities are required to buy biobased products when available. This program has been modeled after USDA BioPreferred, and will also include a certification process to approve biobased products for use.

Guides for Responsible Purchasing