Key points of the new EU Regulation for recycled plastics for food contact

María Monedero and Raúl Díaz, Project Managers of Packaging and Circular Economy Unit

Updates on European legislation to ensure sustainable and safe packaging

The European Union’s commitment to increase plastic recycling, not only for its use as a food contact material, can be seen in the European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy. To this end, this strategy strengthens the capacity of the countries that make up the strategy to recycle plastic and promotes the increase of recycled content in plastic products and packaging.  Therefore, on 15 September 2022, the European Commission published Regulation (EU) No. 2022/1616 on recycled plastic materials and articles intended to come into contact with food, which revokes the previous Regulation (EC) No. 282/2008. This new Regulation entered into force on 10 October 2022.

envases alimentario sostenibles y seguros

We cannot forget that the strategy for introducing recycled plastic in packaging is regulated and promoted in Spain in the Spanish Law on Waste and Contaminated Land for a Circular Economy, which specifies deadlines for increasing the recycled plastic content in food packaging.

In line with this law, the main objective of the new European Regulation is to facilitate the presence on the EU market of materials and articles intended to come into contact with food containing recycled plastic. Furthermore, it aims to do so in a way that provides the legal certainty that the activity requires, i.e. by issuing regulatory legislation that extends the specific requirements applicable to all existing and future recycling plastic technologies.

Reglamento de la UE para los plásticos reciclados para contacto alimentario (UE) 2022/1616

In other words, this is about ensuring that food contact materials, in this case new sustainable packaging materials derived from recycled plastics, are safe for human health. In this regard, the Regulation incorporates several changes compared to the previous Regulation. One of the most important is the classification of recycling technologies into two main groups:

  • Appropriate technologies: These are technologies for which there is already scientific evidence that the recycled material obtained complies with the principle of food safety as set out in the regulatory framework. This group of technologies currently includes two types of plastics recycling:
    • Mechanical recycling of post-consumer PET plastic: These processes are subject to authorisation by the European Commission and in the coming months the authorisation of the processes that currently have a positive opinion from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) will be studied.
    • Recycling from product loops in a closed and controlled chain: No authorisation will be required, but it will be necessary to demonstrate compliance with the principle of food safety as set out in the EU Framework Regulation.
  • Novel technologies: These are recycling technologies for which there is insufficient basis to ensure that the material to be used in a future sustainable packaging is suitable for food contact. In order to gather evidence that they are suitable, the European Commission will allow them to be maintained with this status for some time until they can be classified as suitable. However, the new regulation stipulates that the developer of a novel technology must have studies that validate the compliance with the food safety principle of the recycled packaging plastic obtained. Thus:
    • The recycled plastic obtained may be placed on the EU market for a certain period of time (at least 2 years) without a final EFSA assessment of such technologies.
    • Scientific tests and studies must be carried out to demonstrate that the novel technology can produce recycled plastic objects and materials that are safe for the consumer, in accordance with Article 3 of Regulation (EC) No 1935/2004.
Envase alimentos
envase plástico apto para contacto alimentario

With the implementation of the new Regulation, all types of recycled plastic and recycling technologies fall within the scope of the Regulation, including the use of recycled plastic behind a functional barrier and forms of chemical recycling, although all must follow the rules of Regulation (EU) No 10/2011 on FCM plastic (food contact materials).

In addition, the Regulation extends the scope to other stages, such as waste management. In summary, the main new features, apart from those mentioned above, are as follows:

  • Mandatory public registration (European Union Register) to ensure transparency and facilitate quality control and traceability. Recyclers, recycling facilities and recycling processes.
  • Standards for the labelling of recycled plastic.
  • Mandatory Declaration of Conformity for each batch of recycled plastic to identify the recycler, to indicate that the plastic is recycled and to provide instructions on its use to converters and end-users. In order to make that document uniformly understandable to any person receiving it, operators should be required to use a pre-defined template.
  • Certified quality assurance system to guarantee the quality and traceability of the plastic input.
  • Recyclers are required to further control the contamination levels of the recycled plastic by carrying out compliance testing.
  • If the decontamination facility was operating before 10 October 2022, it has until 10 December 2022 to comply with the new provisions set out in the Regulation. For the rest of the installations operating under new technologies, they will have until 10 June 2023 to comply with the new provisions set out in this Regulation.

How to adapt to Regulation (EU) No. 2022/1616 on recycled plastic materials and articles intended to come into contact with food?

Ensayos seguridad alimentaria

At ITENE we verify the safety of materials intended to come into contact with food according to European, US (FDA) and Mercosur legislation. To this end, we provide advisory and consultancy services for companies, and we offer a wide range of testing services, such as migration tests applicable to plastic materials.

We also provide technical assistance and support throughout the process of preparing, submitting and evaluating technical dossiers to international and national risk assessment authorities (e.g. EFSA, FDA, BfR, etc.), aimed at obtaining authorisations for new substances for food contact materials, including plastic recycling processes.

Our tests also include the determination of unintentionally added substances, known as NIAS, in different types of food packaging. These are substances that may be present as impurities or degradation products of the raw materials that make up the material itself, and may migrate into the food. NIAS need to be characterised through a risk analysis, as they can be potentially harmful to health.

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    María Monedero
    María Monedero

    Project Manager of Packaging and Circular Economy Unit

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