The new opinion assigns clear arithmetic values to specific criteria such as residual contamination levels, which will determine whether a particular process gains a positive risk assessment from EFSA.
EFSA’s CEF Panel has been working towards evaluating all the PET recycling processes used to produce food-contact materials since the relevant regulation was published in 2008. These processes will continue to be regulated nationally until the EU publishes its decisions and issues authorisations at the pan-European level.
Many recyclers have already submitted their applications to EFSA, but no opinions have yet emerged.
“From the dossiers received so far, it looks like there are around 15 main technologies for the decontamination of post-consumer PET. The same technology may happen to be used by more than one producer,” EFSA told FoodProductionDaily.
The new opinion clarifies how EFSA will evaluate the risk to health from any contamination in recycled PET by looking at the cleaning efficiency of different processes. The assessment also models the migration of contaminants through the recycled PET to ensure that the dose people might be exposed to will be “negligible”.
Since it’s impossible to say for sure which substances post-consumer packaging may have been exposed to, the Panel specifies a series of challenge tests using surrogates with different polarities and molecular weights to represent different classes of contaminants.
EFSA has set the permitted level of exposure at below 0.0025 μg/kg bw/day for unknown contaminants. This is the human exposure threshold value for chemicals with structural alerts raising concern for potential genotoxicity.
Infants are at the most risk from potential contamination because of their low body weight. The Panel says that the highest concentration of a substance in water that would ensure that babies don’t exceed their dietary exposure of 0.0025 µg/kg bw/day is 0.017 μg/kg.
This is the default exposure scenario applied when the recycled PET is intended for general use.
The Panel’s opinion also looks upstream at the collection systems providing the raw materials to the recycling plants.
Post-consumer PET may include containers for toiletries, cleaning products and other non-food applications, as well as containers that have been misused by people for more dangerous products:
“As a pre-requisite, the Panel considers that input based on containers coming from non-food uses should not be intentionally used. The Panel considered appropriate that the proportion of PET from non-food consumer applications should be no more than 5% in the input to be recycled.”