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Mulch & Soil Council

Weights & Measures


Fellows

Resorces

PDFTesting Volumetric Fill for Soil Products <1 CF/25 L
PDFTest Measure Specifications for Soil Products <1 CF/25L
PDFTesting Volumetric Fill for Mulch Products (1-3CF)
PDFNIST Handbook 133: Checking Net Contents

2017 Overview of Campaign for Uniform W&M Testing:

The National Institute of Standards & Technology (NIST) of the U.S. Department of Commerce is headquartered in Gaithersburg, MD, and helps coordinate industry and regulatory issues —including weights & measures — in interstate commerce. NIST handbooks provide guidelines for uniform standards and testing utilized by most state and local governments as well as private industry.

In the early 1990s, the Mulch & Soil Council (MSC) worked with representatives of NIST and various states to define the procedures for testing the net contents of mulch and soils packaged by volume. The results of that effort were published in NIST Handbook 133 – Checking the Net Contents of Packaged Goods and remained substantially unchanged for the next 25 years.

In 1996, the industry experienced a tremendous problem with product under-packing that disrupted the market place so much that the MSC requested that NIST help coordinate a multi-state survey of product packaging. The survey showed that across more than a dozen states over a 30-day period, more than 80 percent of the tested product lots failed inspection on volume measure.

That failure resulted in combined industry and NIST training programs to teach industry how to label, fill and inspect product packages as well as training state regulators on the proper procedures and details for checking the net contents of packaged mulch and soil products. Between the general guidelines outlined in NIST Handbook 133 and the NIST/MSC training programs, both industry and regulators achieved very uniform testing practices over the next 2 years. In 1998, MSC requested NIST to coordinate another multi-state survey of packaged mulches and 80 percent of all inspected production lots passed the net contents test.

Fast forward after 16 years of general industry compliance, a few producers of packaged mulches ran head-long into several multi-state, stop-sale orders in the Spring of 2014. The MSC investigated and found there were some industry problems that were quickly corrected. At the same time, the great number of state tests being shared with the Council over a short period allowed industry to review the practices of multiple state agencies regarding their application of the NIST Handbook 133 guidelines. It was clear that not all jurisdictions were running the same test or following the same protocols. Some of the variations in test procedures were only nominal, but others had a very significant impact on the results.

The only way weights & measures can work in interstate commerce is if industry and every regulatory jurisdiction does EXACTLY the same test in EXACTLY the same way — with no deviations or interpretations. No business can comply with 50 different state tests or countless local W&M jurisdictions that vary; so, we investigated further.

After talking with NIST, various states, and industry representatives, our conclusion was that the past NIST Handbook 133 general instructions combined with NIST technical training filling-in the details has succumbed to the budget and personnel problems of the day, and fewer people could participate in NIST training. Without reinforcement of the training segment, people were relying solely on the general guidelines of NIST Handbook 133 which were not specific enough assure uniform practices without the training component.

The obvious solution was to clarify the NIST Handbook 133 instructions with the essential added details provided by the NIST training program. The starting point was a review of what industry and states were doing differently from the training program instructions and provide clarification in each of those areas.

It is surprising how difficult it can be to take something you do without much thought in a demonstration people can view and describe it EXACTLY for people who are not intended to vary in any degree on how it is done, but have never seen it executed properly. Such were the challenges of merging decades of NIST training practices via editorial clarifications into the NIST Handbook 133 directions for checking net contents of packaged mulch products.

It took the better part of 2014 to arrive at an acceptable proposal that would promote uniform testing procedures among industry and regulatory agencies. BUT, you cannot simply change the federal guidelines in NIST Handbook 133. There is a process whereby the proposal is described in painfully detailed text showing strikeouts and additions along with purpose and justification that is submitted to the National Conference on Weights & Measures (NCWM).

NCWM is the national trade association of the 50 state weights & measures agencies who adjudicate and approve proposed changes to federal guidelines before any changes can be made by the federal government. In short, our clarifications to NIST Handbook 133 could not be published until a majority of states voted to approve the changes.

We submitted our first proposal, with NIST as a joint petitioner, in January 2015. NCWM is divided into 4 regional associations and the rules say you must have the vote of at least 1 regional association to move your petition forward for consideration at the national convention and a vote by all the states. SO, in 2015, we visited every regional weights & measures association to sell our proposal and seek a sponsor to move the issue forward. That is a long process and it took until the February interim meeting in 2016 to get on the agenda for review by the national Laws & Regulations Committee.

We got our first approval in February 2016 to move to a final vote at the annual meeting in July 2016. From February to July, we attended several additional regional association meetings to build support for the proposal and the final vote. In July 2016, one state presented minor objections in the public hearing and the national L&R Committee discussed the issue and moved the proposal forward as a voting item.

Going into the voting session, everyone expected the proposal to pass easily, but when we came to bat on the last day of the meeting as the very last item to be considered in the voting session, one new state sandbagged the issue while blindsiding the committee with last second objections (not previously heard) that derailed the vote. Our proposal was sent back to committee for further development.

In reality, the last-minute objection was resolved in less than 1 minute at the next regional meeting, but the voting session rules did not allow MSC to make such a change at the July 2016 voting session. However, the extra time gave us the opportunity to make some additional clarifications that were helpful.

From July 2016 to February 2017 MSC traveled to more regional meetings promoting the revised proposal that received support from 3 regions as a voting item for the interim meeting in 2017. The February 2017 Interim Meeting again moved the proposal forward as a voting item for the annual meeting in July 2017.

At the NCWM Annual Meeting in Philadelphia a last month, the revised proposal for editorial clarifications to NIST Handbook 133 were again approved by the National L&R Committee. One state presented objections in open hearings which were overcome by the L&R Committee.

It is customary that each regional association meet just before the start of the voting session on Wednesday, which is after the Monday public hearings and the Tuesday committee hearings. At the Central Region Association meeting, 2 states objected to the handbook clarifications which they do not currently follow. At the same time, MSC was encouraging other state representatives to express their support for the proposal in the voting session.

Again, our proposal came to bat on the last day of the meeting, in the last session as the last voting item. Agenda item 2600-1 (MSC proposal) was called and our annual antagonist state entered their ongoing objection. That was followed by 1 region and 5 states voicing their public support. Perhaps that public support prevented a second attempt to blindside the issue at the last minute, but it doesn’t matter as the proposal passed by a vote of 31-7

The newly approved editorial clarification to checking the net contents of packaged mulch products will appear in the 2018 edition of NIST Handbook 133. The Mulch & Soil Council thanks:

• The MSC Standards Committee for their initial development of the editorial changes,

• NIST Office of Weights & Measures for their joint development of the proposal and their help and encouragement during the long process,

• The L&R Committee and membership of each regional weights & measures association who supported our efforts and

• The NCWM National L&R Committee for their dedication and help in promoting the uniform testing of mulch and soil products between regulators and industry.

As a side note, we realize that most industry companies don’t have the resources to individually spend the time and money to learn who all the key players are, attend 4 national meetings and work 8 regional meetings over3 years (which is actually a fast-track for changing federal guidelines) in order to develop a regulatory position that helps everyone in the industry (and the regulatory agencies, too). That is why the Mulch & Soil Council is so important to the industry in maintaining an open and fair market. If you would like a copy of the approved editorial proposal for checking the net contents of mulch packages, download the NCWM L&R Committee Report and review item 2600-1 on pages 37-40. Click here: 2017 Pub 16: Laws & Regulations Committee Report


2014 W&M Issues:

The Mulch & Soil Council is concerned about several issues regarding uniform testing procedures for mulch and soil products in 2014. Field reports and test data sheets suggested some states were modifying the test procedures described in NIST HB133.

The Council has always been a strong supporter of weights & measure rules and enforcement to assure a level playing field for industry. The Council also believes that NIST is the essential element in maintaining a fair market because standardization of test procedures is absolutely necessary in order to assure every player on the field (whether manufacturer, retailer, consumer or regulator) is using exactly the same terms, definitions and testing procedures for an apples-to-apples comparison. Without uniform testing among industry, customers and regulators, the market place simply falls into chaos.

In reviewing the handbook, there were several areas we believe may have allowed for varying interpretations of procedural practices that the Council historically was confident were being adequately addressed in the NIST training programs but were not specifically detailed in the handbook written procedures. The 2014 unofficial survey by states brought such variances to light given the high number of tests conducted in a short time period that allowed unusual comparison of state-to-state activities and procedures we had not reviewed in many years.

In discussing these issues with the NIST team last year, the NIST Office of Weights & Measures recommended that the Council should review HB133 procedures and propose any changes our industry felt might improve uniformity of testing for both industry and regulators. The Mulch & Soil Council took NIST’s advice and began testing and collecting data to demonstrate the impact of procedural variations from the literal application and regulatory intent of HB133 procedures.

Our data indicates there are interpretations of practices and procedures that do have significant impact on test results due to the highly variable characteristics and disparate particle size distribution of materials in mulch products, specifically. Therefore, we assigned a committee to review the HB133 procedures, analyze the test results considering best industry manufacturing practices and develop clarifying procedural instructions that promote uniform testing among all parties.

The draft recommendations for HB133 edits were also reviewed with the MSC membership via public comment and the committee took all suggestions and finalized the draft proposal for HB133 edits in January.

A copy of the proposed draft edits to clarify HB133 test procedures for mulch and soil products is linked below. Any member with questions or suggestions regarding the proposed edits should contact MSC Executive Director Robert LaGasse for clarification.

PDFWeights & Measures Data
PDFNCWM Application Form