On December 2-4, 2015 the plastics food contact materials (FCMs) industry met at the Smithers Pira “Plastics and paper in contact with foodstuffs 2015” in Barcelona, Spain. Regulatory changes concerning FCMs were covered (FPF reported), as well as recycling of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and high density polyethylene (HDPE). Further, risk assessment of food contact chemicals (FCCs) was discussed, both from an exposure-based and a hazard-based perspective.

Chemical risk assessment is commonly performed to assess safety of FCCs migrating into foods. Thereby, both the exposure (i.e. level of an FCC present in the daily diet) and the hazard (i.e. the toxicological properties of an FCC) are equally important to inform on the FCCs’ risk. For non-intentionally added substances (NIAS) in plastics, risk assessment can be challenging as these chemicals often do not have toxicological testing data, or their chemical identity is unknown. Dario Dainelli of plastics FCM manufacturer Sealed Air presented a pragmatic tool developed by several trade associations, the Matrix Calculation Tool, for risk assessment of NIAS, based on estimated human exposure to the FCC of interest. He suggested focusing more on exposure when performing risk assessment of FCCs, since model assumptions currently used in the EU lead to “unjustified limitations”. On the other hand, Jane Muncke of the Food Packaging Forum showed different perspectives suggesting a hazard-based approach to risk assessment: (1) based on current scientific understanding of mixture toxicity and developmental origins of adult disease hypothesis, (2) policy developments in direction of a circular economy, and (3) business requirements for food packaging free from hazardous chemicals, due to consumer demands and related reputational risks.

Recycling of plastics was the topic of three presentations. Frank Welle of Fraunhofer IVV showed an analysis of an HDPE recycling process authorization and compared the European Food Safety Authority’s (EFSA) scientific opinion to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) decision. While EFSA required more data on the presence of genotoxic chemicals, and its final decision is still pending, the FDA approved the same process, however not all data and assumptions underlying FDA’s decision are publicly available, while EFSA’s opinion is published (FPF reported). Edward Kozier of Nextec presented details of the HDPE recycling process and addressed EFSA’s concern for consumer misuse resulting in an increase of hazardous chemicals. In his analysis, Kozier did not find a high incidence of contamination from misuse of HDPE milk bottles. Recycling of PET was discussed by Elfriede Hell of Starlinger, a manufacturer of plastics recycling equipment. She explained that while EFSA’s scientific opinions for several recycled PET (rPET) processes were published, the European Commission had not yet authorized any, and first authorizations were expected for the end of 2017. She also mentioned that FDA considered any PET input acceptable while EFSA allowed for a maximal input of 5% non-food grade PET. In the EU Circular Economy Package, new packaging recycling targets of 75% by 2030 are set (FPF reported), with a new target for plastics packaging recycling of 55% (up from 22.5%).

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Smithers Pira (2015). “Plastics and paper in contact with foodstuffs 2015.