Recycled plastics and food contact materials: a regulatory snapshot

30 June, 2023

Uncertainty surrounding the rules governing the use of recycled plastics in food contact materials (FCMs) risks hindering packaging innovation for the food and beverage sector. Keeping up with the latest regulatory and safety developments is vital to ensure activity in this space is focused and effective.


The FCM challenge

FCMs made from recycled plastics must meet the safety criteria (and other performance requirements) of virgin plastics. This demands sophisticated recycling methods coupled with regular testing to ensure materials adhere to the requirements of different markets. Regulations will play a critical role driving this agenda, but there is a fragmented global picture at present. Here’s a snapshot of the current situation in four key markets:

  • EU: The European Commission has introduced a new Regulation (EU) 2022/1616 for recycled food contact plastic materials, repealing s Regulation (EC) 282/2008. It focuses on production of recycled plastics, as well establishing a Union Register for technologies, recyclers, recycling processes, recycling schemes and decontamination processes for harmonisation across Member States
  • UK: Use of recycled plastics as FCMs is legislated through regulations that transposed Regulation (EC) 282/2008 into UK law when it left the EU. Recycling processes for FCMs approved by the European Food Standards Agency (EFSA) prior to 10 October 2022 can currently be used within Great Britain, but new recycling processes adopted after this date must be authorised by the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA).
  • Japan and US: There is no specific legislation on the use of recycled plastics in FCM applications in Japan or the US to date; instead, there are guidelines on this matter. Even then, there are some differences between the Japanese and American guidelines. For example, in Japan, the maximum level of elution of contaminants from any recycled plastic materials is set at 10ppb, but in the US the maximum residues of contaminants is dependent on the polymer type.

To meet growing requirements to reduce plastic waste and increase use of recycled plastics, food business operators will inevitably have to use recycled plastics in FCMs. However, with higher contamination risks than virgin plastics, observing regulations and following guidelines will be critical for safety assurance. Furthermore, rules vary from country to country, and most are still evolving in many markets. Test methods, authorisation processes and documentation requirements are also inconsistent and complicated.

Our international team of regulatory experts can help you navigate this challenging environment with confidence. Find out more here.

You may also be interested in our online training course Food Contact Materials legislation in EU and UK - How to comply, which starts on 4 November 2023. Early bird pricing ends on 9 August 2023. 

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