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EFSA backs PET recycling technology

By Joe Whitworth , 22-Oct-2012

EFSA has concluded a decontamination technology used to obtain recycled post-consumer polyethylene terephthalate (PET) for use in food contact materials poses no safety concerns.

The EFSA Panel on Food Contact Materials, Enzymes, Flavourings and Processing Aids (CEF) looked at the decontamination efficiency of four firms using the VACUREMA Prime technology.

The opinion was conducted after the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) and the Glówny Inspektor Sanitarny, Poland requested the evaluation of the recycling processes from Eco Plastics and Polowat, respectively. 

The Bundesamt für Verbraucherschutz und Lebensmittelsicherheit, Germany requested the evaluation of Vogtland and STF recycling processes.

Critical steps

The panel concluded that the decontamination in batch reactors and the decontamination in continuous reactor are the critical steps for the efficiency of the processes and should be kept under control to guarantee the performance of these processes.

The operating parameters to control performance of these critical steps are the temperature, the pressure and the residence time, said the review.

The input for the recycling processes are hot caustic-washed flakes obtained from PET bottles previously used for food packaging, from postconsumer collection systems (curbside and/or deposit collection systems).

However, a small fraction may originate from non-food applications such as soap bottles, mouth wash, kitchen hygiene bottles, etc. According to the applicants, the amount of this non-food container fraction depends on the re-collection system. On the basis of market share data, the applicants estimated this fraction below 5%,” said the EFSA panel.

Through the technology, washed and dried PET flakes are heated in a batch reactor under vacuum and then heated in a continuous reactor under vacuum before being extruded into pellets.

The four step process involves post-consumer collected PET bottles are processed into washed and dried flakes which are used as input of the decontamination technology.

Dried flakes are then heated in a batch reactor under vacuum, heated in a continuous reactor under vacuum before being extruded.

Contamination test

EFSA introduced selected contaminant chemicals into the process and found the decontamination efficiency ranged from 98.3% for lindane to 99.95 for toluene at the exit of the batch reactor step of the process.

After the continuous reactor none of the surrogates could be detected, said the opinion.

However, the panel said critical steps should be monitored and kept under control and documentation on how the critical steps are operated under conditions such as those in the challenge test should be available.

“The recycled PET obtained from the processes Eco Plastics, Vogtland, Polowat and STF intended for the manufacture of materials and articles for contact with all types of foodstuffs for hotfill and/or long term storage at room temperature is not considered of safety concern,” it concluded.

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