Plastics recycling suffers from a lack of regulation in the EU

By Paul Gander

- Last updated on GMT

The EC has yet to authorise recycling processes for food-contact plastics
The EC has yet to authorise recycling processes for food-contact plastics

Related tags: Recycled polyethylene terephthalate, European food safety, European union

European plastics recycling bodies have criticised the European Commission’s (EC’s) delay in conferring legal authorisation on recycling processes for food-contact plastics, nine years on from the initial regulation and despite more than 140 positive scientific opinions on processes in use.

Sector organisation Plastics Recyclers Europe (PRE) pointed out that more than €500M (£447.5M) had been invested in plants reprocessing food-grade plastics across the continent, with over half of European recycled polyethylene terephthalate (rPET) ending up in food-contact applications.

Meanwhile, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has positively assessed 144 dossiers from individual recyclers. But so far, the EC has not officially authorised any of them.

‘EC underestimated the amount of work’

Antonino Furfari, md of PRE, said: “Probably, in the procedure and regulatory structure, the EC underestimated the amount of work this would create.”

PRE claimed that the supply chain for rPET and other recycled polymers had been left in a “legislative no man’s land”​ and had to fall back on unharmonised national legislation.

“How can a company develop its use of rPET if it has legal and bureaucratic constraints on putting those products on the market?”​ Furfari asked.

‘Different way in each market’

“For a multinational company it is bad enough, having to produce packaging with recycled content potentially in a different way in each market. But for smaller companies, it can be even worse, deciding if they can comply with different legislation at national level, or if they are simply better off using virgin polymer.”

But understaffing at the EC may not fully explain the delay. There is a possibility that the EC fears what the impact of legislation, once enacted, might be on trade from outside the EU.

Theoretically, if a non-EU producer wanted to import into Europe using food packaging with recycled plastics content, it would either need to use an approved EU supplier or demonstrate compliance with the legislation in some other way.

Related topics: Packaging materials

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