New guidelines concerning the recycling of plastics intended for use in the packaging of foods have been published by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).
Recycled plastics can pose problems when reused as food containers due to the possibility of contaminants being accumulated in the material during the recycling process.
The new EFSA guidelines are designed for a person or company submitting a dossier in relation to safety evaluation of a recycling process to produce materials and articles for contact with food.
EFSA said the publication was informed by the public consultation carried out by its panel on food additives, flavourings, processing aids and materials in contact with food (AFC) between January and March this year.
The European Commission's new regulation on recycled plastics (EC No 282/2008) declares that only materials obtained from recycling processes assessed for safety by EFSA can be used as materials and articles for contact with food.
The regulation aims to limit potential contamination with chemicals migrating from packaging to food.
The new EC regulation also aims to make it easier for processors to trade under the same requirements across the EU. Previously, a hodgepodge of regulations existed on the use of recycled plastic by the food sector.
EFSA said its guidelines deal only with mechanical recycling processes and not the chemical depolymerisation method, as that is already subject to the rules laid down in EU Directive 2002/72/EC.
They also do not deal with a manufacturer's re-use of virgin in-house plastic production scrap.
Also falling outside the scope of the guidelines are recycled plastics used behind a plastic functional barrier as provided for in Commission Directive 2002/72/EC.
EFSA said that in its evaluation, it will scrutinise the quality of the input materials, the efficacy of the process to decontaminate the plastics and the intended use of the recycled plastic.
The authority said that once it has evaluated a recycling process, it will forward its opinion to the European Commission and upon authorisation, a recycling process will then be added to a register of sanctioned recycling methods.
The authorised recycling methods will then be managed by a quality assurance system (QAS) that guarantees the reproducible quality of the recycled plastic, according to EFSA.
However, it stated that the QAS will be carried out by member states and not by EFSA.