Can we safely use recycled plastic as food contact material?

12 Nov 2015

At the NVC Netherlands Packaging Centre we receive questions about food contact materials legislation on a regular basis. The European Union laws in this field are extensive but in general reasonably clear.

For most regulations the European Commission has published guidance documents to help explain the interpretation of the legislation. However, a more obscure member of the EU food contact law family is Regulation EC 282/2008 on recycled plastic materials and articles intended to come into contact with foods. It sets requirements for recycled plastics to be used in food contact materials, and introduces an authorisation procedure of recycling processes used in manufacturing recycled plastics for food contact use.
Legislation that is not all that clear, is often a source of the most interesting questions. For Regulation EC 282/2008 the European Commission published a Q&A document (6 December 2010) to answer some of the most important questions. This does clarify several issues, but it still leaves a lot of questions unanswered. For some reason it appears we are still in the initial authorisation phase – the European Commission hasn’t published any Decisions on the authorisation of specific recycling processes yet, and it even might be the case that EFSA hasn’t published their opinions on all the recycling processes that were registered before 31 December 2009. In the Q&A document it states: “This phase will end — probably in 2014 — when the Commission has adopted a decision on the authorisation for each of the recycling processes for which a valid application was submitted up to 31 December 2009. Before the Commission adopts the decisions on these processes, the EFSA has to issue an opinion on each of them.” The European Commission has been quiet about this process since the beginning of 2014 (which was the 15th update of the register of valid applications for authorisation of recycling processes). So when will this work finally be finished? When will Regulation EC 282/2008 apply in full? We should be getting close by now.
Many people think the processes, EFSA has published an opinion about, are now authorised processes, but this is not the case. EFSA does not authorise the processes, this will be done by the European Commission at the end of the initial authorisation phase. EFSA simply assesses them. They determine whether or not a particular recycling process complies with the safety criteria laid down in the EU legislation. Until the initial authorisation phase ends, the use of the EFSA opinions about these recycling processes is very limited. They may help to support a claim that the use of a recycled plastic material is safe according to framework regulation 1935/2004 on materials and articles intended to come into contact with food, but as long as the initial authorisation phase is not finished, national legislation still applies.
So are we allowed to use recycled plastic for food contact materials? Yes, but it is important you do your homework very well! To help you do your homework, the NVC Netherlands Packaging Centre helps members to answer questions, and provides education in this field: the NVC E-Workshop Food Contact Materials Legislation (online).

Ger Standhardt, manager Knowledge Development & Projects at the NVC Netherlands Packaging Centre.

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