The End of the White Box

So the flooring industry has long utilized the “white box” as a means of expanding distribution. No names, no logs, no websites, just a color or a sku number or a simple size and description. The reasons for this practice are widely varied.

There are a lot of good business reasons to do this, but those days are over. TSCA, like CARB, requires a name on the box, someone they can contact if there is an issue.

It is actually pretty straight-forward. The EPA needs someone to call. And whoever’s name is on the box is the one who is responsible for what is inside the box. Here it is in the EPA’s own words:

The final rule allows panel producers to use a panel producer number or other identifier to protect supply chain confidentiality, as long as EPA is ultimately able to use the label information along with the records required by this rule to identify the panel producer. The expectation is that EPA will be able to trace back through the supply chain, using records identifying each entity’s supplier, to eventually arrive at the panel producer, or an importer for composite wood products not produced domestically.

For finished goods, EPA is requiring either the fabricator’s name on the label or the name of a responsible downstream entity (e.g., an importer, wholesaler, distributor, or retailer). Where a non-fabricator’s name appears on the label, that entity is responsible for identifying the fabricator, and is responsible for the compliance of the labeled products, as if they were the fabricator. Fabricators may not put a downstream entity’s name on the labels unless they have written consent from that entity to do so.

During our panel discussion, we were asked if there was a minimum font or other requirement. Nope, it just has to be in English and legible. Can you use some form of coding? (Not bar coding, but a mill code or something.) Sure, as long as someone can easily and quickly tell the EPA what it means if asked—and that they know who to ask.

This means that if you have an identifiable brand name that is different than your corporate name, something they can google and use to get a number to call you, the brand name can work—you own the brand, they can find you and you’re taking responsibility for the contents.

Someone else asked, “can I abbreviate my name (for example going from John Paul Jones to JPJ) and put my address on it so they can write with questions?” Sounds okay to me. They can find you and you have responsibility.

What happens if you have a white box and your customer labels it with their name before sale? That works IF you and your customer did the proper documentation behind the scenes and your customer can tie that box they are selling under their name back to you. And they recognize that putting their name on the box means assuming full responsibility for what is in the box.

This is, conceptually, a very simple requirement.

  • There has to be a name on the box.
  • That name should easily lead the EPA to someone to talk to about the contents in that box. (That means contact info of some sorts or a company that can be found easily online, or someone the retailer can point to and say “Funky Flooring is sold by John Paul Jones, Inc.”)
  • Whoever is behind that name has responsibility for what’s in the box.

Pretty straightforward. But it’s going to lead to a pretty big shift in how we do business in the flooring industry.

Elizabeth Baldwin is Environmental Compliance Officer for Metropolitan Hardwood Floors. In her 25 plus year career in the wood industry has visited over 70 countries and hundreds of facilities of all sizes and types. She describes herself as a “jack of all wood trades.” Familiar with jungles of all sorts–having camped out along the Amazon and walked the halls of Congress–she blogs for the NWFA on both environmental and regulatory issues for educational and informational purposes only. Her blog is not intended and should not be construed as legal advice. Persons seeking legal advice on compliance with CARB, TSCA, the U.S. Lacey Act or any other law, regulation, or compliance requirement/claim should consult with the regulatory agency directly and/or a qualified legal professional.

2 thoughts

  1. I hope that , in Europe, we can do the same. Like this, customers will be able to compare apple to apple. The origine of the country factory also is very important. Made in Germany, Austria, Belgium or China.

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