The recycling of certain plastics is subject to new requirements due to a new regulation

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On 11 October 2022, a new European Commission Regulation (EU) 2022/1616 on recycled plastic materials and articles intended to come into contact with food (“Regulation 2022/1616”) came into force. Read on for a brief overview of what the new European Regulation introduces and for whom and from when the new obligations will apply.

Regulation 2022/1616 introduces new rules and requirements for recycled plastic materials that will come into contact with food. Recycled plastics that do not meet these requirements cannot be placed on the European market.

About Regulation 2022/1616

Regulation 2022/1616 repeals Regulation (EU) No 282/2008, which also regulated recycled plastic materials and articles intended to come into contact with food but did not apply to all recycling technologies.

Regulation 2022/1616 introduces a control mechanism aimed to ensure plastics are sufficiently decontaminated during recycling that the resulting food contact product poses no risk to human health and has no impact on food. This is to be achieved by guaranteeing that only “suitable” or “new” recycling technologies are used for recycling.

With the introduction of Regulation 2022/1616, specific rules apply to plastics with recycled content that are to be placed on the market, including rules on the collection and pre-processing of plastics, decontamination, quality control and new labelling and content requirements for the relevant documentation.

Recycling installation, suitable recycling technology and permitted recycling processes

Regulation 2022/1616 uses specific terminology. A distinction is made between the terms recycling installation, recycling technology and recycling process. In simple terms, recyclers use a recycling installation to produce recycled plastics based on a recycling process, using a specific recycling technology (e.g. mechanical or chemical) for the recycling process.

Regulation 2022/1616 distinguishes between “suitable” and “new” recycling technologies. Two technologies are classified as suitable in the regulation:

  1. post-consumer mechanical PET recycling, and
  2. recycling from product loops that are in a closed and controlled chain.

Any recycling technology not the subject of a suitability decision under Regulation 2022/1616 will be considered a new technology.

The inpidual recycling processes are evaluated and approved by the European Food Safety Authority (“EFSA”). In addition, the EFSA assesses whether new recycling technologies are suitable for recycling processes on the basis of the type of input plastic they are intended for and the principles that apply to the decontamination of that input plastic.

Union registry

Regulation 2022/1616 establishes a Union register of technologies, recyclers, recycling processes, recycling schemes, and decontamination installations.

Operators of recycling installations that recycle using a permitted recycling process should immediately register in the Union register. Operators using a recycling technology that is not currently considered suitable should consider the procedure applicable to “new recycling technologies” under Regulation 2022/1616 as soon as possible.

Recycled plastics from outside the EU

All plastics placed on the EU market are subject to the same rules. This means that recycling installations located outside the EU must fully comply with the requirements of Regulation 2022/1616 when producing recycled plastic to be placed on the European market. Similarly, if plastic materials that have not yet been decontaminated are imported into the EU and are to be used as feedstock to produce recycled plastic intended for food contact in the EU, they must comply with the same rules on origin, collection methods and quality control that apply to material collected in the EU.

What will the years 2023 and 2024 bring?

Materials and objects

  • made from recycled plastic,
  • obtained through recycling processes, and
  • which are the result of recycling technology that is not considered suitable,

may no longer be placed on the EÚ market after 11 July 2023 unless they have been manufactured in a recycling installation operated for the purpose of developing a new technology.

Food business operators may use recycled plastic materials and articles lawfully placed on the market to package foodstuffs and place such foodstuffs on the market until stocks are exhausted.

From 10 July 2023, PET recycling processes will also have to be approved by the EFSA, and approval decisions will include restrictions on recycling processes.

Developers of technologies already used to produce materials and articles made from recycled plastics before 10 October 2022 must fulfil their reporting obligations to the competent national authorities and the Commission by 10 April 2023 and publish a so-called detailed initial report on safety of the manufactured plastic.

From October 2024, quality assurance systems used to collect and pre-process plastics must be certified by an independent third party.