Directive Simplifies Food-Contact Recycled Plastics Laws in Europe

Date: Jun 01, 2004

A proposed directive from the European Commission is intended to harmonize the regulation of recycled plastic packaging materials for food contact that are sold in the European Union (EU).

Currently, national laws of the individual Member States regulate the use of recycled plastics for food contact in the EU. Some Member States, such as Belgium and France, require premarket approval of the recycling process before recycled output may be used in food-contact plastics. At least two Member States, Spain and Italy, have generally prohibited the use of recycled content in food-contact plastics, although this ban does not apply to post-consumer recycle obtained chemical depolymerization procedures.

Thus, the proposed legislation is definitely a step in the right direction. Companies would be subject to only one set of regulations, rather than the current system which requires a recycle resin producer to obtain letters of sanction from multiple Member States.

On the other hand, the proposed legislation contains a rather complicated authorization procedure. It requires that an evaluation be conducted by European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), reviewed and approved by the Commission, and then audited and certified by the competent authority in the Member State in which the production facility is located.


Importantly, not all recycled materials will be subject to the premarket authorization procedure.

The latest draft of the directive exempts monomers and starting substances that are obtained from chemical depolymerization, as long as the recycled articles meet the same specifications as virgin plastics that are set out in the Framework Directive (89/109/EEC) and the Plastics Directive (2002/72/EC).

In addition, the proposed directive excludes materials reclaimed from in-house production scrap, provided that the resin is re-used at the same site.


The materials to be recycled must consist only of post-consumer food-contact articles that comply with the Plastic Directive: The sorting efficiency of the input must be at least 99%.

To obtain an authorization, an applicant must submit a petition to EFSA containing a technical dossier, summary of the dossier and a "reasoned statement" that the material complies with the stated requirements.

Once the dossier is submitted, EFSA has six months to evaluate the application and report to the Commission and the Member States. Within three months of receiving EFSA's opinion, the Commission has three months to decide whether the recycling process will be authorized. If it is accepted, it will be included on a publicly available Community Registry of approved recycling processes. The authorization is valid for five years, at which time it is renewable.

Unfortunately, that's not the end of the process.

Once on the Registry, the facility where the recycled resin is produced must be audited to verify that the recycling process corresponds to the process that was authorized by the Commission and that the quality assurance system in place is effective. The auditor's report is then submitted to the competent authority in the Member State where the facility is located for its review and approval.

The proposed legislation requires that all materials that contain more than 5% of recycled plastic must be labeled with a chasing arrow symbol encircling a glass and fork. Materials also must be accompanied by a certification, and comply with traceability and recordkeeping requirements.

Used with permission. Copyright FOOD & DRUG PACKAGING, June, 2004.

For further information about this article, please contact George G. Misko at 202-434-4170 or by email at misko@khlaw.com