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Certified Biodegradable
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How meaningful is the label? Is the label verified? Is the meaning of the label consistent? Are the label standards publicly available? Is information about the organization publicly available? Is the organization free from conflict of interest? Was the label developed with broad public and industry input?
Highly Meaningful1 Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No2
1. However it should not be taken to mean 100% biodegradable.
2. Broad input from government and industry was obtained, and any member of the public can comment on the standard or appeal the certification of a particular product.
Environmental Persistence

SCS Global Services, an independent certifier, has developed certification standards for biodegradable soaps, detergents, and cleaners.

SCS Global Services requires information on the formulation of the product and test results from either the entire product or each of the individual ingredients. This information, plus other available information from the scientific literature, must show that the product will biodegrade in the environment when used as directed, that it (or its breakdown products) will not be toxic to aquatic organisms, that it does not contain phosphates or other compounds that contribute to eutrophication (an excess of nutrients, leading to overgrowth of plant matter and depletion of oxygen in water bodies), and that the ingredients will not adversely impact the environment by displacing other harmful substances (e.g., heavy metals) already present.

SCS Global Services’ standards require testing using an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) test (or other validated test) to show 70% biodegradation within 28 days into carbon dioxide, water, and minerals under conditions where oxygen is present. SCS also requires EPA tests or other validated tests to ensure that whatever material is left after biodegradation is not toxic to aquatic organisms.

In addition, SCS Global Services will not certify products, even if they meet the standard of 70% biodegradation within 28 days in required tests, if the ingredients are not likely to biodegrade in the “real world” due to their presence in such large quantities in the environment that they overwhelm the ability of bacteria to biodegrade them. For example, under certain circumstances detergents containing linear alkyl sulfonates were not certified for this reason.

SCS Global Services’ standards state that certain tests can be be waived if certain condition are met. For example, testing showing 70% biodegradability in 28 days may be waived if each ingredient can be shown not to enter or concentrate in receiving water bodies at levels that would impact aquatic organisms. However, no waivers of this test have been granted to date.

Ingredients in a product that are also known to be present in water or sludge downstream from wastewater treatment plants at levels that could impact aquatic organisms must also be shown to be degradable under oxygen-deprived conditions, and not to bioconcentrate (build up in living tissue).

SCS Global Services also reviews the labeling and marketing material of a company to ensure that its logo is being used appropriately, and that the company is not exaggerating the meaning or scope of the certification, or associating it with other environmental claims, for example.

Foods, drugs, and cosmetics are required to list their ingredients (with a few exceptions, such as fragrances in cosmetics), but household cleaning products are not required to disclose their ingredients (except for disinfectants or other ingredients considered to be antimicrobial pesticides).
How meaningful is the label?
The “certified biodegradable” claim is highly meaningful, especially when compared to the general biodegradable claim. However, it should not be taken to mean that it is 100% biodegradable. The standards are clearly defined, transparent (publicly available), meaningful, and are independently verified.

The SCS Global Services certified biodegradable program would be more meaningful if it were more consistent with guidance issued by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on how the claim of “biodegradability” should be used. According to the FTC’s guidance, biodegradable means that the materials will break down and return to nature within a “reasonably short time after customary disposal.” For products that go down the drain, like detergents and shampoos, FTC guidance states that “a reasonably short period of time” would be about the same time that it takes for sewage to be processed in wastewater treatment systems. Sewage is generally processed in most municipal wastewater treatment systems much more quickly than 28 days.

SCS Global Services does, however, consider the biodegradability of the product under actual conditions of use. For example, a cleaner designed to clean boats would need to be biodegradable if added directly to a lake.

Does an organization verify that the label standards are met?

Is the meaning of the label consistent?

Are the label standards publicly available?

Is information about the standard organization publicly available?

Is the organization behind the label free from conflict of public interest?
Yes. SCS Global Services staff or consultants may not have any financial interests or ties with companies who are certified. Therefore no conflicts of interest exist and Scientific Certification Systems is independent from the certified products.

Was the label developed with broad public and industry input?
No, although the recommended tests are the same as those used by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and input on the certified biodegradable standards was obtained from government and industry. Also, any member of the public can comment on the standard or appeal the certification of a particular product.
Certified Biodegradable
SCS Global Services
The organization was founded in 1984 and was originally called NutriClean, and it focused on testing produce for pesticide residues. In 1990 the programs expanded to cover certification programs for different environmental attributes, and in the early 1990s the certified biodegradation program was developed. The organization was known as Green Cross for several years, but due to the use of that name by another organization, it changed its name to Scientific Certification Systems. At present time, the organization has changed its name to SCS Global Services.

The certification is a fee-for-service; companies who wish to be certified pay a fee for SCS to do the analysis and evaluation, without any guarantee they will get certified. There is no outside funding like foundations.

Standards are developed by SCS Global Services as part of their “R&D” costs, and are not developed for a fee.

SCS Global Services has a Board of Directors, but the Board as a whole is not involved in the decisions of who gets certified. (The President and CEO of SCS Global Services also is a Board member, and is also a scientist, and may be consulted on difficult issues or cases). The person who audits the company makes a recommendation on whether the product should be certified, but does not make the final decision. Generally the Director of Environmental Claims Certification makes the final decision. An internal committee composed of 4 technical persons on staff (including the Vice President, a Ph.D. marine biologist and the President and CEO, a Ph.D. chemist) may be consulted to decide on difficult issues or cases. Appeals of decisions are decided by this internal committee.
SCS Standards
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