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PET recycling processes for food contact materials: EFSA adopts first opinions

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has adopted its first three scientific opinions on the safety of processes to recycle polyethylene terephthalate (PET) 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 which 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 ten recycling processes, grouped according to the applied recycling technology. Among the Panel’s conclusions for all three opinions, it stated that the recycling processes would not give rise to safety concerns if the proportion of PET from non-food consumer applications does not 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 does not 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.

These three opinions are the first opinions of a series to be issued over the next 18 months on applications for recycling processes to manufacture plastics for food contact materials. In line with its Founding Regulation, EFSA publishes its opinions in a timely manner as they are adopted. The sequence of publication of opinions on these processes is linked to EFSA’s work programme set up on the basis of the applications received. Therefore, the publication of these opinions should not be seen as an order of priority, or in any way reflect on the quality of processes which EFSA has not yet evaluated for safety. An overview of all applications for authorisation received can be accessed on EFSA’s website: Register of Questions

See the three adopted scientific opinions on the safety evaluation of the following PET recycling processes used to recycle post-consumer PET into food contact materials:

For more information about the regulatory framework:

*As defined by Regulation EC 282/2008 and excluding the exceptions set down in Article 1(2) thereof. (Updated: 6 September 2012)

Notes to editors

The EFSA evaluations of recycling processes is one of the steps towards authorisation of the use of recycled plastics in food contact materials. When EFSA has published all its opinions on these recycling processes during this phase, the Commission and Member States will decide whether or not to grant or refuse authorisation of the evaluated recycling processes. The European Commission will prepare a Register of authorised processes. Following publication of this Register each new EFSA opinion on a recycling process will be considered by the Commission for authorisation and any subsequent update of the Register. See: Food Contact Materials - Directorate General for Health & Consumers

Regulation EC 2023/2006 lays down rules on good manufacturing practice for groups of materials and articles intended to come into contact with food.

The scientific criteria used by EFSA’s CEF Panel for evaluating the safety of PET recycling processes was published in a scientific opinion in July 2011: Scientific Opinion on the criteria to be used for safety evaluation of a mechanical recycling process to produce recycled PET intended to be used for manufacture of materials and articles in contact with food

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