On October 25, 2016 the Food Packaging Forum (FPF) held its fourth annual workshop on “Modern science to inform regulation of food contact materials in the circular economy.” The workshop’s afternoon session was chaired by Pete Myers from Environmental Health Sciences and focused on the circular economy and its opportunities and challenges for food contact materials (FCMs).
Jane Muncke, Managing Director of FPF, introduced the circular economy concept and highlighted specific challenges for chemical safety of FCMs, for example separation of food-grade from non-food grade packaging waste (talk Muncke).
The second speaker, Kettil Svensson, Senior Toxicologist at the Swedish National Food Agency, explained Sweden’s approach to chemical risk assessment that focuses on using human biomonitoring data to assess actual exposures, and the use of the “risk thermometer” for effective risk communication (talk Svensson).
Michiel De Smet, Project Manager for The New Plastics Economy at Ellen MacArthur Foundation, shared his organization’s approach for transitioning to the circular economy by collaborating with large corporations who want to seize opportunities offered by changing from business-as-usual to closing material cycles, reducing waste and minimizing energy inputs (talk De Smet).
Michael Warhurst, Director at CHEM Trust, discussed how current FCM regulation in Europe misses its aim of protecting public health and enabling the EU-internal market—two aspects that were highlighted in the recent report by the European Parliament (FPF reported). Warhurst called on the EU Commission to urgently provide harmonized regulation on Paper, printing Inks, Coatings, Adhesives, and Board (PICAB), especially for recycled paper where different Member States have different rules. He further said that voluntary commitment from industry was not good enough, because this would not address the issue comprehensively (talk Warhurst).
Next, U.S. entrepreneur Amy Ziff, founder of MADE SAFE, explained that there is increasing consumer awareness for chemical contaminants in food, and that concerns go beyond how foods are grown. She also highlighted that consumer confidence in the food supply has decreased over the last three years. In her opinion, businesses have an opportunity here if they embrace the trend for transparency, strong values and having a dialogue with customers (talk Ziff).
Casper van den Dungen, Vice-President of Plastics Recycling Europe (PRE), discussed plastic recycling’s role in transitioning to the circular economy. He sees collaboration between supply chain actors as key—starting with design requirements down to high quality sorting, always with a focus on keeping it simple and living the best practice. An industry that organizes itself is more effective than one that waits for regulation to address issues, van den Dungen stated (talk van den Dungen).
The last speaker of the afternoon session was Xenia Trier, Project Manager at the European Environment Agency (EEA). She shared the enabling factors for transitioning to the circular economy, like eco-design and a longer product life, recycling, economic incentives, new business models, eco-innovation and governance (talk Trier).
The workshop closed with a podium discussion on the opportunities and challenges in the circular economy for FCMs. One of the main issues raised during the discussion was the lack of data for making informed decisions—both on environmental and chemical safety aspects. A possible way to deal with this challenge could be to decrease complexity by making FCMs “benign by design,” which would also offer opportunity for innovation. Other comments were that fully harmonized FCM regulations were not achievable given the challenges with the harmonization of the plastics regulation, but Member States could play a key role in establishing better FCM testing guidance for all materials, by working with the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). Prioritization of permanent materials like glass or metal was mentioned as a way forward in regulating FCMs in the circular economy, and focusing on bio-based FCMs like paper and board could be an opportunity. On the other hand, 100% recycling was deemed unrealistic for plastics, as it would be too expensive. All FCMs could also improve their product environmental footprint by amending manufacturing conditions, like consequently reusing internal scrap and repurposing excess energy for heating. Food safety and prevention of avoidable food waste were mentioned as key aspects that justify the use of food packaging. In the end, all speakers shared a message of hope, saying that the ongoing dialogue on circular economy challenges is an important step in the right direction.
Jane Muncke (October 25, 2016). “Chemical safety of food contact materials in the circular economy.” (pdf)
Jane Muncke (October 25, 2016). “Chemical safety of food contact materials in the circular economy.” Youtube
Kettil Svensson (October 25, 2016). “Swedish regulatory toxicology perspective.” (pdf)
Kettil Svensson (October 25, 2016). “Swedish regulatory toxicology perspective.” Youtube
Michiel De Smet (October 25, 2016). “New Plastics Economy.” (pdf)
Michiel De Smet (October 25, 2016). “New Plastics Economy.” Youtube
Michael Warhurst (October 25, 2016). “Addressing chemicals of concern in food contact materials.” (pdf)
Michael Warhurst (October 25, 2016). “Addressing chemicals of concern in food contact materials.” Youtube
Amy Ziff (October 25, 2016). “What consumers want.” (pdf)
Amy Ziff (October 25, 2016). “What consumers want.” Youtube
Casper van den Dungen (October 25, 2016). “Plastics packaging in a circular economy.” (pdf)
Casper van den Dungen (October 25, 2016). “Plastics packaging in a circular economy.” Youtube
Xenia Trier (October 25, 2016). “Food contact materials in a circular economy and a non toxic environment.” (pdf)
Xenia Trier (October 25, 2016). “Food contact materials in a circular economy and a non toxic environment.” Youtube