European legislation on the way - New opportunities for recycling
Hetty Jongbloed, Jan Jetten and Rinus Rijk, TNO, Business Center Chemistry
The use of recycled plastics for food contact applications has been restricted in Europe by the lack of relevant legislation. However, this will change in the near future. Imminent legislation will officially open up the market to the use of recycled plastics for food contact.
A new European regulation (EC 1935/2004) covering all food contact materials (FCM) was adopted by the Council of Ministers on 14th October 2004. This new regulation replaces the European framework directive 89/109/EC.
The new regulation states that the use of recycled materials and articles should be favoured for environmental reasons provided that strict requirements are established to ensure food safety and consumer protection. For this purpose rules are being drawn up for recycled plastics, expanding the general requirements contained in the new framework regulation. The draft regulation for recycled plastics enables their use in food contact applications. It applies to all food contact plastics, not just to PET, which is today the major application in recycled food contact materials. The new regulation may be ready early 2006.
The draft regulation for recycled food contact plastics covers only mechanically recycled plastics and does not apply to chemical recycling and the in-house recycling of production waste.
Important requirements in the draft regulation include:
- The recycling process should be authorised by relevant European authorities;
- The plastic material being recycled must be manufactured in accordance with 2002/72/EC, and have been
in contact with foodstuffs only;
- The output of the recycling process must comply with 2002/72/EC;
- The recycled product must be accompanied by a declaration of compliance;
- The recycling process must be performed under an appropriate quality assurance system.
To obtain authorisation for a recycling process that produces food-grade plastic, an application must be sent to the appropriate authority in an EU Member State, and include data such as criteria of input (collecting, sorting and washing), detailed information on the recycling process, analysis of the critical points in the recycling process, quality of the output (physical and chemical) and the intended field of application of the output. The application is forwarded to EFSA, which carries out a safety assessment. EFSA issues an opinion within six months of receiving the valid application and forwards its opinion to the Commission. The Commission prepares a draft decision to authorise the recycling process, and the authorised process is entered in a register. The authorisation is company-specific as regards technology and process parameters used, is valid for five years and is renewable for ten-year periods. Authorised recycling plants will also be subject to regular audit by national enforcement authorities.
The input of a recycling process must contain only food-grade plastic materials and articles. This means that they have to comply with Directive 2002/72/EC and be intended and used for food contact only. This requires a reliable collecting system. For open input collection systems, the minimum sorting efficiency must be 95%, and should be higher wherever possible. Non-food contact plastics or substances originating from prior misuse are treated as contaminants of the recycled material. When this happens, it must be demonstrated that the material complies with article 3 of Regulation (EC) no 1935/2004. Change and frequency of such contamination may be one of the critical point of the recycling process.
Output of the recycling process
The result of a recycling process should be a plastic material that complies with the plastics directive. In practice, this means that the recycling process must be capable of removing any chemical contamination from the plastic input in such a way that a food-grade material results. Recycling processes therefore have to be evaluated with 'challenge tests'.
In a challenge test, the plastic input is exposed to selected surrogate contaminants. These are compounds that represent any possible contaminant in practical situations, with the exception of carcinogenic and mutagenic substances. After exposure, the plastic is subjected to the recycling process. Subsequent analysis of the plastic for those contaminants demonstrates the efficacy of the recycling process.
However, in case of a closed loop recycling process the challenge test may not be required. In those cases the input must be completely under control and thus excluding any contamination during use.
The new regulation for recycled plastics will come into force on the twentieth day after publication in the Official Journal of the European Union. After that, a transitional period will follow in which recycled plastics already on the market will be permitted to continue for a limited period, to allow time for authorisation. It is foreseeable that applications for authorisation need to be submitted within 18 months of the date on which the regulation comes into force. Recycled plastics for which no application has been submitted by this date should be withdrawn from the market immediately.
Product validation in practice
The requirements in the new recycling regulation all originate with the aim of ensuring food safety and consumer protection, and hence the quality of the recyclate has to be validated. How would this be done in practice? As practical criteria have not yet been specified in the regulation, it is not yet known how a recycler should deal with the results of, for example, the analysis of the volatile compounds in the recyclate. For instance, a very common contaminant found in used PET is limonene, a major component of citrus fruits. Limonene not only occurs in juices and beverages, but is also used in cleaning products. What if a relatively high concentration of limonene is found in a batch of the recyclate? Should this particular batch be discarded? Should additional tests be done? Or can it be used regardless? These questions are still to be answered.
Opportunities for the recycling industry
The advent of the new European recycling regulation enables the use of recycled plastics for food contact. This will considerably improve the opportunities for (a.o. closed-loop) recycling.
TNO has longstanding experience in the field of food contact materials, recycling and legislation and can assist the recycling industry with the performance of challenge tests, compliance tests, auditing and the preparation of a dossier to apply for authorisation.
Adapted from an article by Hetty Jongbloed, Jan Jetten and Rinus Rijk (TNO, Zeist, the Netherlands)
For more information, please contact:
TNO, Marketing and Sales Chemistry
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