The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has adopted its first three scientific opinions on the safety of processes to recycle polyethylene terephthalate (rPET) for use in food contact materials.
All the processes are considered not to give rise to safety concerns if operated under well-defined and controlled conditions.
These opinions are the first of a series on recycled plastic materials for food use. Once this series is completed, EFSA's opinions will inform the decisions of the European Commission and member states regarding the authorisation of the evaluated processes.
After that, recycled plastics used in food packaging, food containers and other food contact materials should only be obtained from processes that have been assessed for safety by EFSA and authorised by risk managers.
The Authority is therefore contributing to greater consumer protection while also supporting the wider environmental objective of waste recycling.
The three opinions adopted by EFSA's Panel on Food Contact Materials, Enzymes, Flavourings and Processing Aids (CEF) assess a total of 10 recycling processes, grouped according to the applied recycling technology.
Among the Panel's conclusions for all three opinions, it stated that the recycling processes wouldn't give rise to safety concerns if the proportion of PET from non-food consumer applications doesn't exceed 5%, and these processes are operated under well-defined conditions. The Panel recommends that this is monitored periodically in line with Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP).
EFSA evaluations only concern the safety of mechanical recycling processes in which used consumer plastics are collected, ground into small flakes and decontaminated before being processed into new materials for use in the food chain.
Collected plastics used in mechanical recycling might have been previously contaminated with chemicals that are not suitable for food contact applications. Producers are required to demonstrate that their process can reduce chemical contaminants in the recycled plastic to such a level that potential migration of any residual chemicals doesn't pose a risk for human health.
In 2011, the CEF Panel published an opinion describing its safety assessment approach for PET recycling processes, specifying the evaluation criteria it uses. In its safety assessment, EFSA takes into account the quality of the input materials, the efficiency of the process to decontaminate the plastics and the intended use of the recycled plastic.
In addition, the process steps that are critical for ensuring sufficient decontamination must be identified and their operation must be described. Where necessary, applicants may be required to modify the proposed uses and/or modify the proportion of recycled material to be in compliance with EFSA's scientific methodology.
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