Plastic Recycling

Introduction

Commission Regulation (EU) 2022/15XX on recycled plastic materials and articles intended to come into contact with foods will enter into force in October 2022.

At the time of entry into force, the Regulation will have the following effect:

  • Regulation (EC) No 282/2008Search for available translations of the preceding link, is repealed; it will no longer be in force;
  • it is no longer possible to use recycled plastic Food Contact Materials (FCMs) subject to national legislation;
  • specific rules become directly applicable to the placing on the market of plastic with recycled content, including on the collection and sorting of the plastic input, its decontamination, and conversion, affecting also quality control, documentation and labelling;
  • a Union register including recyclers and recycling installations is established and will be published on this website;
  • all kinds of recycled plastic and recycling technologies are in the scope of the Regulation, including mechanical recycling, recycling of products from a closed and controlled product chain, the use of recycled plastic behind a functional barrier, and forms of chemical recycling;
  • new rules applicable to novel recycling technologies and the evaluation of recycling processes become applicable.

After the entry into force, further rules will become applicable:

  • With respect to mechanical polyethylene terephthalate (PET) recycling processes:
    • processes subject to an application received by European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) before July 2023 may continue after that date to be used to place recycled plastic on the market without authorisation, until they are notified of a decision on their authorisation;
    • the first of those authorisation decisions, concerning applications received before entry into force of the Regulation (i.e. on the basis of Regulation (EC) No 282/2008), are expected within three months from entry into force;
    • authorisation decisions place restrictions on recycling processes; these are based on the EFSA opinion applicable to the process;
    • from July 2023 onwards, processes for which EFSA did not receive an application before that date may not be used to place recycled plastic on the market, they must be authorised first;
  • from July 2023, only plastics containing recycled plastic manufactured with a suitable recycling technology may be placed on the market, unless manufactured with a novel technology and in accordance with Chapter IV of the Regulation; the Regulation lays down two suitable technologies:
    • post-consumer mechanical PET recycling; this requires authorisation of individual processes
    • recycling from product loops which are in a closed and controlled chain; this requires the use of a recycling scheme
  • from October 2024, quality assurances systems used to collect and pre-process plastic input need to be certified by a third party

This page paraphrases the Regulation to facilitate a quick understanding of the main rules laid down. It is important to carefully check the wording of this page against the precise wording used in the Regulation. Only the wording used in the Regulation is complete and legally binding.

Questions and Answers

  • What are (recycled) food contact materials (‘FCMs’)?
    Before its eventual consumption, food comes into contact with many materials and articles during its production, processing, storage, preparation and serving. Such materials and articles include food packaging and containers, machinery to process food, and kitchenware and tableware. These materials are referred to as Food Contact Materials (‘FCMs’); they are either intended for food contact or such contact is foreseeable, and it may be direct or indirect. Constituents of food contact materials that transfer from these materials into the food may affect the chemical safety of the food and affect human health, as well as the quality of the food, its taste and smell, and its appearance. FCM legislation therefore sets out rules that should ensure the safety of these materials. It includes general rules applicable to all FCMs and specific rules on materials, such as on plastic and recycled plastics. Recycled FCMs have content that is recovered from waste, and may be contaminated with substances originating from previous use and from other waste. Therefore some recycled materials are subject to additional rules.
  • What does the Regulation do?
    The new Regulation aims at ensuring the chemical and microbiological safety of recycled plastic intended to come into contact with food, including food packaging (‘recycled plastic FCMs’). Recycled plastics largely originate from household waste and may be contaminated in several ways. If that contamination is not removed, it may end up in our food and be harmful to human health.The Regulation sets out rules applicable to the manufacturing process of plastic with recycled content (‘recycling processes’) to ensure that the decontamination process leads to the plastic being safe. Thereto, it requires the European Food Safety Authority (‘EFSA’) to assess recycling processes to verify that they are capable of producing safe plastics and that the processes are then authorised. Furthermore, it sets out rules applicable to quality control of the recycled plastic as well as enforcement thereof by public authorities.In addition, the Regulation includes a procedure that establishes whether novel recycling technologies are suitable to recycle plastic FCMs. It supports the development of innovative recycling technologies that are likely to allow in the future the recycling of plastics that cannot be recycled today into FCMs, while it maintains a high level of safety of those recycled plastics.
  • How does it fit into other initiatives, notably the new Circular Economy Action Plan (CEAP)?
    The new Regulation helps to fulfil at least two objectives of the new CEAP.The CEAP firstly sets out that, to increase uptake of recycled plastics and contribute to the more sustainable use of plastics, the Commission will propose mandatory requirements for recycled content in plastic materials, while ensuring the performance and safety of such materials. Plastic FCM makes up about 50% of the total plastic packaging. As targets for recycled content in FCM can only be set for plastics for which safe recycling technologies are with certainty available, this new Regulation provides a necessary basis for deciding on recycled content targets for food packaging.Secondly, the new CEAP states that Commission policy will seek standardisation and the use of quality management systems to assure the quality of the collected waste destined for use in products, and in particular as food contact material. The new Regulation implements this objective for waste intended to manufacture food contact materials from recycled plastic.
  • When can we expect more recycled plastic to be available on the market?
    Recycled PET (Polyethylene terephthalate) is already quite widely used as food packaging today.Since 2010 EFSA has been evaluating the safety of recycling processes under EU legislation, particularly that of PET recycling processes, but national legislation was still applicable to the use of these processes to manufacture recycled plastic. In addition, EFSA evaluated the recycling of plastics that are collected from closed and controlled product loops, such as the crates used in supermarkets, which are also already widely recycled, and concluded they are safe. For the recycling of High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) collected using municipal waste collection, which EFSA also assessed, it could not yet decide whether recycling processes are suitable, so we cannot yet expect recycled HDPE FCMs on the market.The new Regulation will ensure that all rules for authorisation and enforcement are fully harmonised, with a view to regulating all aspects relevant to the manufacture and safety of recycled plastics. The level playing field thus created is expected to help to develop the market for recycled plastics further.

    Beyond PET, it is expected that availability of other types of recycled plastic polymers will increase on the market in the coming years, which will benefit from the EU legal framework now in place for such innovation.

  • What is the role of EFSA?
    EFSASearch for available translations of the preceding link lays down criteria for the safety assessment of recycling processes to ensure they cannot harm human health, and it evaluates processes for which applications for authorisation are submitted against these criteria.It has already evaluated well over 200 PET recycling processes over the last decade.The new Regulation also requires that EFSA provides an opinion on whether novel recycling technologies are suitable to be used as a basis for recycling processes based on the kind of plastic input they are intended for, and the principles they apply for decontaminating that input.
  • What will the role of Member States be under the new Regulation?
    Member States have essentially two roles under the new Regulation.Firstly, as members of the corresponding regulatory committee, they provide an opinion on whether novel recycling technologies can be considered suitable, and whether the specific recycling processes can be authorised subsequently to a positive EFSA opinion.In addition, their competent authorities also maintain an important role in enforcing compliance with the Regulation, for instance by auditing recyclers for compliance with requirements on quality control. If a recycler cannot show that they appropriately implement or operate quality control procedures, the Competent Authorities are to implement appropriate control measures, and require to take certain recycled plastic off the market, if its safety cannot be ensured.
  • This new Regulation sets out rules for recycled plastics. How does the EU ensure the safety of new plastics?
    Plastic materials and articles intended to come into contact with food have been subject to EU legislation for over three decades. The current Regulation (EU) No 10/2011 on plastic FCMs sets out rules on the composition of such plastics, including a list of substances that have been subject to risk assessment by EFSA or its predecessor, and which have been authorised for the manufacture of plastics.It lays down other restrictions as well, including on the purity of substances used, and restricts the migration of specific substances from the plastic to the food by establishing limits.Apart from the new Regulation, recycled plastic must also comply with Regulation (EU) No 10/2011 on plastic FCMs.  Therefore, recycled plastic used in FCMs must comply with the same rules on composition as newly manufactured plastic FCMs.
  • We read about recycling technologies, processes and installations. What is this all about?
    The new Regulation defines specific terminology to be able to regulate effectively different aspects of the manufacture of recycled plastics. This includes definitions for ‘recycling technology’, ‘recycling processes’, and ‘recycling installations’. Recyclers use a recycling installation to manufacture recycled plastic based on a recycling process. That process applies a certain recycling technology. The regulation ensures that recycled plastic is safe by first determining whether the applied recycling technology is suitable, then by authorising detailed recycling processes, and by subsequently enforcing the appropriate use of the recycling installations.
  • How will transparency for these products be enhanced?
    The new Regulation sets up a Union (EU) register of recyclers, recycling processes, recycling installations, the facilities where these installations are located, recycling schemes and novel technologies.This register, which will be launched in the coming months, will provide a comprehensive overview of all operators that recycle plastic intended for contact with food and their facilities.This will ensure a high level of transparency to the Competent Authorities and consumers, and it will also greatly facilitate the controls of the quality of recycled plastic.

    Business operators will need to provide relevant registration numbers such as for the installation used to manufacture a batch of recycled plastic. It will also help to inform EU policy as it will make clear for instance how many recyclers are active in the EU.

  • What are recycling schemes, are they deposit return systems (‘DRS’)?
    No, recycling schemes set up under the new Regulation are not the same as deposit-refund schemes (‘DRS’). A DRS is to stimulate efficient collection of packaging subject to that system. A recycling scheme allows operators to collect clean used plastics independently from municipal waste collection.Recycling schemes are already used. They are used for example to ensure that  plastic collected from closed and controlled product chains, such as crates used to transport vegetables from food producers to retailers, is kept clean. When these crates become damaged or old, the plastic may be then recycled without the use of an authorised recycling process.
  • Are there any actions that recyclers need taking now there is a new recycling Regulation?
    Recyclers of plastic intended for contact with food need to ensure full compliance with the new Regulation. Recyclers using a technology that is not presently considered suitable should consider the procedure applicable to novel recycling technologies.The main action required from business operators applying recycling processes that are already considered suitable is to ensure their quick registration in the Union register. The dedicated web pageSearch for available translations of the preceding link explains the actions they need to take, some of these actions should best be taken now. In addition, recyclers and the users of recycled plastic will see changes to the requirements on compliance documentation and labelling.EFSA also published favourable opinions on over 230 mechanical PET recycling processes following applications from recyclers. The Commission is in the process of preparing authorisations based on these opinions. These Authorisations will be notified to those recyclers in the months following the entry into force of the new Regulation, and include restrictions and specifications on the use of the authorised processes, based on the EFSA opinions. The Commission will communicate with the recyclers individually to prepare the authorisations. It is important that recyclers follow these communications carefully.
  • What about chemical recycling technologies?
    In the past, EU legislation on recycled plastic food contact materials excluded several manufacturing technologies from its scope. This is no longer the case. All plastic food contact materials containing plastic originating from waste or manufactured therefrom are subject to this Regulation, including when they are produced by using a chemical recycling technology rather than a mechanical recycling technology. Such chemical recycling technologies break down plastic to a certain extent.The new recycling Regulation only excludes from its scope the use of waste to manufacture substances included in the Union list of authorised substances in accordance with Article 5 of Regulation (EU) No 10/2011 on plastic food contact materials. The substances manufactured must be used fully in accordance with this Regulation and cannot contain oligomers or contaminants originating from the waste.
  • What about imported recycled plastic FCMs?
    The same rules apply to all plastics placed on the EU market.That means that a recycling installation located outside of the EU must fully comply with the new Regulation if it manufactures recycled plastic that is placed on the EU market.Likewise, if plastic materials are imported into the EU that are not yet decontaminated are to be used as input to manufacture recycled plastic intended for food contact in the EU, these must comply with the same rules on origin, collection methods, and quality control applicable to material collected in the EU.
  • Why don’t the rules force industry to reduce the use of plastics, to ensure it is reused more, and to use more recycled plastic in their packaging or to force consumers to recycle?
    The Commission fully supports the use of the waste hierarchy to reduce the pressure on the environment caused by packaging, including food packaging.However, this Regulation is primarily about ensuring food safety in order to facilitate a higher level of plastic recycling in FCM. About 50% of all plastic packaging is estimated to be food packaging, and without clear rules for food safety, it would not be possible to increase the level of recycling and recycled content under environmental legislation.Moreover, in line with the new CEAP, the Commission is in its final steps of preparing a proposal to review the Packaging and Packaging Waste DirectiveSearch for available translations of the preceding link, which also applies to food packaging. This revision envisages concrete measures to reduce packaging waste, including plastics, to make all packaging recyclable and to increase recycled content in plastic packaging.
  • What about safety rules on recycling other types of materials such as glass, metal and paper?
    Certain other materials, particularly glass and metal are already widely recycled, and there are no indications that these materials, if recycled, would require specific legislation to ensure their safety. However, it is quite clear that recycled paper and board used in FCM would require similar rules as recycled plastics. The Commission will consider such rules as part of the revision of the FCM legislationSearch for available translations of the preceding link that is presently being prepared.

 

 

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