Recycled plastic can become contaminated during its processing if it is in contact with other materials such as waste. If contaminated recycled plastic is then used to produce food contact materials, that contamination can pass into the food.
On 20 September 2022, the European Commission (EC) adopted and published Regulation (EU) 2022/1616 on recycled plastic materials and articles intended to come into contact with foods. This Regulation repeals Regulation (EC) No. 282/2008 and entered into force on 10 October 2022.
The new recycling regulation provides a harmonised legal framework across the European Union (EU), to ensure the safety of recycled plastic intended to come into contact with food. Under the new recycling regulation, recyclers must register their recycling installations and recycling schemes with the EC and notify the relevant competent authority of the territory where the respective entity (installation, recycling operator, etc.) is located. In Ireland, the competent authority for this is the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI).
The new recycling regulation will provide a publicly available EU list of novel technologies, recyclers, recycling processes, recycling schemes and decontamination installations.
Last reviewed: 30/11/2022
New Recycling Regulation for Plastic Materials
What are the new rules about recycling plastic materials?
Scope of the New Regulation
All recycled plastic and recycling technologies are within the scope of the new recycling regulation. This includes mechanical recycling, the use of recycled plastic behind a functional barrier, some types of chemical recycling and recycling from a closed product loop.
However, the new recycling regulation excludes from its scope the use of plastic waste to break it down into the substances used to produce plastics. These are the substances included in the EU list of authorised substances in accordance with Article 5 of the plastics Regulation (EU) No 10/2011. These substances if produced using chemical recycling must be used according to the plastics Regulation (EU) No 10/2011 and must not contain molecules or contaminants which come from waste materials.
Specific Rules under the New Regulation
The new recycling regulation sets down rules for regulating the production of recycled plastics to be used for food contact. Importantly, it does this by authorising recycling processes which have been independently evaluated by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), to ensure they are effective in reducing contamination rather than authorising individual recycled plastics.
The new recycling regulation requires EFSA to evaluate new recycling processes on an ongoing basis and authorise those shown to be able to produce safe recycled plastic. In that regard, the new regulation also sets down rules for quality control of the recycled plastic and includes procedures to evaluate the suitability and safety of novel plastic recycling technologies i.e. EFSA will be required to provide opinions 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.
Recycling technology means a specific combination of physical or chemical concepts, principles, and practices to recycle a waste stream of a certain type and collected in a certain way into recycled plastic materials and articles of a specific type and with a specific intended use, and includes a decontamination technology
From 10 July 2023, only plastics containing recycled plastic materials manufactured with a suitable recycling technology or notified novel technology can be placed on the EU market.
Recycled plastic food contact materials and articles must meet the same requirements as virgin i.e. newly manufactured plastics in accordance with Regulation (EU) No. 10/2011.
A recycling technology is considered suitable if it is shown to be capable of recycling waste into recycled plastic materials and articles that comply with general requirements laid down in Regulation (EC) No 1935/2004 and is microbiologically safe.
‘Waste’, ‘municipal waste’, ‘waste management’, ‘collection’, ‘re-use’, ‘recycling’, and ‘non-hazardous waste’, as laid down in Article 3 of Directive 2008/98/EC.
Developers of novel technologies already in use to manufacture recycled plastic materials and articles before 10 October 2022 must notify the FSAI, as the competent authority, with the required information and publish a detailed initial report concerning the safety of the manufactured plastics before 10 April 2023.
Individual batches of recycled plastic and of recycled plastic materials and articles must be accompanied by a single document or record regarding their quality, including a declaration of compliance (DoC), instructions to the converters and final users regarding its use, and shall be identified by a unique number and the name of the manufacturing stage from which they originate. Retailers should communicate relevant instructions to the users of such materials and articles if such instructions are not reflected in the labelling.
For recycled plastics that are already placed on the market, food business operators are allowed to use and place them on the market until stocks are exhausted.
From 10 October 2024, quality assurance systems used to collect and pre-process plastic input need to be certified by a third party.
Registration of Recycling Installations and Recycling Schemes
Under the new recycling regulation, recyclers must register recycling installations and recycling schemes with the EC. Information on the registration procedure, in addition to registration templates, are available on the EC website.
Please note that the new recycling regulation also requires recyclers under its scope to notify the relevant competent authority of the territory where the respective entity (installation, recycling operator, etc.) is located.
The contact details for the FSAI as the competent authority in Ireland for the enforcement of the regulation is:
Food Safety Authority of Ireland,
The Exchange, George’s Dock,
or email to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Important Dates in the New Regulation
Commission Regulation (EU) 2022/1616 on recycled plastic materials and articles intended to come into contact with foods entered into force on 10.10.2022.
With respect to mechanical polyethylene terephthalate (PET) recycling processes all processes are subject to an application received by the EFSA:
- Authorisation decisions from EFSA, concerning applications received before the 10.10.2022 are expected to be published on or before 10.01.2023
- Processes subject to an application received by EFSA before 10.07.2023 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
- However, from 10.07.2023 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 10.07.2023, 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 Regulation (EU) 2022/1616. Currently the Regulation lays down two suitable technologies:
- Post-consumer mechanical PET recycling which requires authorisation of individual processes
- Recycling from product loops which are in closed and controlled chains. These require the use of a recycling scheme.
From 10.10.2024, quality assurances systems used to collect and pre-process plastic input need to be certified by a third party.
Further information can be found on the EC website for food contact materials. The European Commission has also produced a Q&A on the new regulation, together with information and templates for registration by recyclers. There are also resources available from EFSA. Links to all this information is provided below: