EFSA_logoA European Union panel has approved the use of Starlinger de-contamination technology to recycle post-consumer PET into 100 percent-recycled-content food and beverage packaging.

The Panel on Food Contact Materials, Enzymes, Flavourings and Processing Aids (CEF) also signed off on using an antioxidant additive in food containers, but it said authorities should reconsider allowable migration limits for a UV absorber.

The CEF is part of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). In the European Union, recycled plastics and additives can only be used in food and beverage packaging if the EFSA says they’re safe. Under EU law, recycling companies submit applications to individual countries, which apply to the EFSA on their behalf.

Following is a roundup of recent approvals from the CEF (click here to see our previous roundup, published in February).

Starlinger DeCon technology

The CEF approved three applications to use Starlinger’s DeCon technology to recycle PET into food packaging.

The process starts by turning post-consumer PET containers from deposit and curbside collections into washed and dried flakes. The flakes are pre-heated in batch reactors with a flow of hot gas before they’re condensed in a continuous reactor at a high temperature using a combination of vacuum and gas flow.

The final flakes can be used to mold beverage containers or thermoform sheets for the creation of recycled-content food trays.

EFSA determined the technology ensures the food is contaminated with less than 0.1 microgram (or one ten-thousandth of a milligram) of contamination per kilogram of food. Anything below that level is considered a negligible risk to human health.

EFSA on March 2 published its approvals of the following applications, all submitted by Germany’s Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety on behalf of the companies:

  • Application on behalf of Coopbox Hispania of Spain (approval)
  • Application on behalf of Ecoiberia-reciclados Ibericos of Portugal (approval)
  • Application on behalf of ANL Plastics of Belgium (approval)

Starlinger IV+ technology

CEF also approved the use of Starlinger’s IV+ technology to recycle PET into food packaging.

In the Starlinger IV+ system, PET containers from curbside and deposit collections are converted to pellets, which can be used to create containers with 100 percent recycled content.

In the first step, post-consumer containers are processed into hot caustic washed and dried flakes before they’re crystallized in a reactor with a hot air flow. Then they’re extruded under vacuum at a high temperature and crystallized. Finally, the crystallized pellets are pre-heated before going into a continuous-running solid state polycondensation reactor at high temperature and under vacuum.

The Finnish Food Safety Authority submitted the application on behalf of Pramia Plastic Oy of Finland. The CEF’s approval was published in March.

Antioxidant additive

CEF in March approved the use of a-tocopherol acetate as an antioxidant additive in plastic food packaging.

The United Kingdom’s Food Standards Agency applied to have the CEF study its use, stating that the substance would be used in molded polyolefin food storage containers and tanks. The maximum level would be 640 milligrams per kilogram of plastic.

In plastics, the substance interacts with moisture to form two substances: a-tocopherol and acetic acid. Both of those have already been studied and approved as food additives, so there was no concern about using them as a plastic additive.

The application was submitted on behalf of New Jersey-headquartered additive maker Cytec Solvay Group, which says antioxidants can be used to maintain the stability of plastics during processing.

UV absorber

Finally, the CEF studied the use of zinc oxide in nanoform in unplasticized polymers at up to 2 percent by weight. German company BYK Chemie sought the approval, planning to use zinc oxide to absorb ultraviolet radiation in food packaging plastics.

EU regulations limit zinc oxide migrations from packaging into food to 25 milligrams of zinc oxide per kilogram of food. Meanwhile, the Scientific Committee on Food recommends people have no more than 25 milligrams per day of zinc.

The CEF recently studied the use of zinc oxide nanoparticles as UV absorbers in polyolefins and determined the substance, in nanoform, won’t migrate into food and drink. It will migrate in soluble ionic zinc form, however. And while the amount leaching into food still complies with safe limits, a person could exceed the 25 milligrams per day recommendation when zinc oxide is consumed along with zinc from other dietary sources, according to the CEF.

The CEF recommended the European Commission reconsider the migration limit, taking into account the fact that people will consume zinc from other sources throughout the day.

The application was submitted by The Netherlands Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport on behalf of BYK Chemie. CEF published its opinion in March.