EU delays approval of recycling processes in food-contact applications

Plastic food packagingCreating the circular economy with regard to recycling post-consumer plastic is easier said than done—the European Union has delayed the approval process of recycling in food-contact applications. More than nine years have passed since the publication of Regulation (EC) No. 282/2008, which established rules for the use of recycled plastic materials in food applications.

To date, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has adopted more than 140 positive scientific opinions on the safety of processes to recycle plastics for use in food-contact materials. Following these opinions, the European Commission is in a position to officially authorize the evaluated processes. However, it has not taken any initiative in that direction so far.

This lengthy delay makes one wonder just how serious the EU truly is about creating a circular economy with recycled plastic materials. While regulations often create obstacles to businesses, in this case the lack of clear-cut regulatory oversight for post-consumer PET is impeding the recycling business for this valuable material.

According to information released by Plastics Recyclers Europe (PRE), the absence of an EU legal framework prolongs the lack of harmonization among member states and has generated legal uncertainty and an unnecessary burden for the industry using recycled materials.     

Casper van den Dungen, PRE Vice President and Chairman of the PET Working Group, said, “More than €500 million have been invested by companies in plants that can transform recycled plastic materials into materials suitable for packaging and food-contact applications. In 2014, more than 50% of the recycled PET in Europe was used in food-contact applications. But EU businesses are still in a legislative no-man’s land due to years of delay.

“This uncertainty leads to a decline in investments and more importantly to a possible mistrust in the legislation ruling food-contact materials,” van den Dungen added.

Other organizations across the value chain joined the call. Food-contact development is subject to clear regulations, said Christian Crepet, Executive Director of Petcore Europe. “Although PET is one of the most widely recycled polymers, the absence of regulation results in a lack of market visibility for sales of recycled PET. This situation affects the whole value chain from virgin production to waste management.”

Alexandre Dangis, Managing Director of EuPC, also commented on this situation: “In order to realize a real circular economy in the European Union, we ask the EU Commission to unlock this bureaucratic situation very urgently. Industry needs to remain competitive at the global level and very important investments have been made by hundreds of companies in Europe to comply with this EU regulation.”

EFBW Secretary General, Patricia Fosselard, emphasized: “Natural mineral and spring water producers are important users of recycled PET. Having a harmonized European framework on recycling processes will pave the way for greater use of recycled plastic and foster a circular economy while bringing legal certainty to recyclers and users alike.”

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