In an article published on September 3, 2018, by news provider Euractiv, editor Frédéric Simon reported on the upcoming authorization of plastic recycling processes for use in food contact materials (FCMs) in the EU. “The European Commission is preparing to fast-track approval of 140 recycling processes for use in food and drinks packaging, despite warnings that second-hand plastics risk containing toxic chemicals dangerous for human health,” he informed.
At the 6th meeting of the European Food Safety Authority’s (EFSA) Scientific Network of the Food Ingredients and Food Packaging (FIP) Unit on FCMs, held in July 2018, Jonathan Briggs of the European Commission’s (EC) Directorate-General for Health and Food Safety (DG SANTE) announced that adoption and application of the 140 recycling processes is planned for early 2019 (FPF reported). However, according to Simon’s article, “[t]arget timeline for adoption will be the end of 2018,” citing Anca Paduraru, a spokesperson for the EC.
The EC’s authorization decisions address 140 plastic recycling processes, mostly concerning polyethylene terephthalate (PET), for which EFSA has already issued a favorable or inconclusive opinion (137 processes determined safe, evaluation of 3 processes inconclusive). The Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed (SC-PAFF), consisting of experts from all EU member states, will vote on the EC’s draft decisions in autumn 2018. After a positive vote by the SC-PAFF, the draft decisions will be directly adopted by the EC without any scrutiny by the European Council and European Parliament. This decision-making process, called comitology (i.e., decisions taken by an expert committee), has come “under fire” because it is “opaque,” Simon noted.
Floriana Cimmarusti, director general of the non-profit organization Safe Food Advocacy Europe (SAFE), highlighted that “[m]any types of plastics absorb chemicals during waste management, and it is very difficult during recycling to eliminate them.” Therefore, “the contamination risk with recycled plastic is clearly higher than with virgin plastic,” she further explained in an interview with Simon. Also, “[t]here are some examples showing the deliberate recycling of non-food plastics into new food packaging,” she informed, adding that “[b]rominated flame retardants have regularly been found in plastic items intended for food contact materials, which is a clear indication that waste electric and electronic equipment (WEEE) has been used in the process” (FPF reported). Cimmarusti is concerned that the risk assessments conducted by EFSA do not provide sufficient certainty because they focus on the start of the recycling processes (i.e., input material, process conditions, decontamination efficiency) rather than on the finished recycled products. Further, EFSA can redact the data submitted by applicants because of confidentiality claims. For these reasons, Cimmarusti deems it “a bit too fast to adopt 140 methodologies in such a short time.”
Frédéric Simon (September 3, 2018). “Is recycled plastic safe for food packaging? EU seems to think so.” Euractiv
Frédéric Simon (September 3, 2018). “Food safety activist: ‘There will always be a risk’ with recycled plastics.” Euractiv
Vanessa Zainzinger (September 20, 2018). “Consumer health NGO raises concerns over recycled plastic FCMs.” Chemical Watch