PET recycling – a positive evaluation from EFSA

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EFSA, the European Food Safety Authority, evaluated ten recycling processes of post-consumer PET packaging waste used by several companies, including Evertis, from Portugal. All processes are based on the "basic technology" from EREMA, a recycling equipment manufacturer based in Austria.

The recycled PET obtained from the processes is intended to be used at a percentage: i) up to 75 % in mixtures with virgin PET, in the manufacture of bottles, intended for contact with all types of foodstuffs, and ii) up to 100 % for the manufacture of thermoformed trays and containers intended for contact with all types of foodstuffs except packaged water. All of them are intended for long term storage at room temperature, with or without hotfill.
The processes comprise of three steps. First the post-consumer collected PET containers are processed into hot caustic washed and dried flakes which are used as input to the EREMA Basic decontamination technology. Dried flakes are heated in a continuous reactor under vacuum (step 2) before being extruded (step 3).
Detailed specifications for the input materials are provided for each of the submitted recycling processes and the proportion of non-food containers is reported to be below 5 % for each of them.

A challenge test was conducted with surrogate contaminants in an industrial scale plant on the process step 2 (continuous reactor) to measure the decontamination efficiency. Since a mixture of flakes not contaminated with surrogates (white) and contaminated flakes (green, spiked with surrogates) was used for this challenge test, the EFSA Panel calculated the decontamination efficiencies taking into account also the amount possibly transferred to the white flakes due to cross-contamination phenomenon during the challenge test.

Step 2 was considered by the Panel to be the critical step for the removal of possible contaminants and should be kept under control to guarantee the performance of the decontamination by these processes.

The decontamination efficiencies obtained for each surrogate contaminant from the challenge test, at the different residence times studied, ranging from 89.4 % to 99.2 %, have been used to calculate the residual concentrations of potential unknown contaminants in pellets (Cres) according to the evaluation procedure described in the Scientific Opinion on ”the criteria to be used for safety evaluation of a mechanical recycling process to produce recycled PET” (EFSA CEF Panel, 2011). According to the evaluation principles, the Cres should not be higher than a modelled concentration in PET (Cmod) corresponding to a migration, after one year at 25 °C, which cannot give rise to a dietary exposure exceeding 0.0025 μg/kg body weight(bw)/day, the exposure threshold below which the risk to human health would be negligible. For processes that produce PET intended to be used in the manufacture of bottles, the default exposure scenario for infants has been applied as a worst case. A maximum dietary exposure of 0.0025 μg/kg bw/day corresponds to a maximum migration of 0.1 μg/kg of a contaminant substance into the infant’s food, as calculated by conservative migration modelling. For processes that produce PET intended to be used in the manufacture of trays and containers not used to package water (since water could be used to prepare infant formula), the exposure scenario for toddlers has been applied as a worst case, where a maximum dietary exposure of 0.0025 μg/kg bw/day corresponds to a maximum migration of 0.15 μg/kg of the contaminant into the toddler’s food. Therefore, the corresponding migration of 0.1 μg/kg (scenario of infants) and 0.15 μg/kg (scenario of toddlers) into food have been used to calculate Cmod. If the pellets produced by a recycling process are used up to 100 % to produce new articles and they do not meet these targets, recycled pellets should be mixed with virgin PET to make sure that Cres will not be higher than Cmod. This has been done for the different residence times requested by each applicant. The Panel established the maximum percentages of recycled PET in final articles for which the risk to human health is demonstrated to be negligible. These percentages differed in some cases from the initial request from the applicants.

image_thumb[2]The EFSA Panel considered that the processes are well characterised and the main steps used to recycle the PET flakes into decontaminated PET pellets are identified. Having examined the results of the challenge test provided, the Panel concluded that the decontamination in a continuous reactor (step 2) is the critical step for the decontamination efficiency of the processes. The operating parameters to control its performance are temperature, pressure and residence time. Therefore, the Panel considered that the recycling processes Octal, Pregis, Sabert, Linpac, ExtruPET, Evertis, Holfeld, Huhtamaki, Snelcore and Re-PET are able to reduce any foreseeable accidental contamination of post-consumer food contact PET to a concentration that does not give rise to concern for a risk to human health if:

    they are operated under conditions that are at least as severe as those obtained from the challenge test used to measure the decontamination efficiency of the processes and,
    the input to the processes is washed and dried post-consumer PET flakes originating from materials and articles that have been manufactured in accordance with the Community legislation on food contact materials and contain no more than 5 % PET from non-food consumer applications and,
    the final bottles manufactured with the recycled pellets do not contain more than: 40 % recycled post-consumer PET for ExtruPET; 60 % recycled post-consumer PET for Evertis and 85 % recycled post-consumer PET for Re-PET and,
    the final thermoformed trays and containers manufactured with the recycled pellets and not used for packaging water do not contain more than: 65 % recycled post-consumer PET for ExtruPET, Pregis, Octal; 75 % recycled post-consumer PET for Snelcore; 90 % recycled post-consumer PET for Evertis, Linpac line 1, Huthamaki; and 100 % recycled post-consumer PET for Re-PET, Linpac line 2, Holfeld and Sabert.

Therefore, the recycled PET obtained from the processes ExtruPET, Evertis, and Re-PET intended to be used for the manufacture of bottles for contact with all types of foodstuffs and from the processes ExtruPET, Evertis, Re-PET, Octal, Pregis, Sabert, Linpac, Holfeld, Huhtamaki and Snelcore for the manufacture of thermoformed trays and containers for contact with all types of foodstuffs except packaged water for long term storage at room temperature with or without hotfill, is not considered of safety concern when final articles are manufactured with no more than the percentage of recycled post-consumer PET specified above. The trays are not intended to be used in microwaves and ovens.

Positive evaluation for "Advanced" Technology

EFSA evaluated also the recycling processes of post-consumer PET packaging based on EREMA "Advanced" technology, used by Kruschitz, Vogtland PET, Veolia, ITW Polyrecycling, Texplast, Alimpet and Esox Prodimpex. The recycled PET obtained from the processes is intended to be used up to 100 % for similar applications: bottles, thermoformed trays and containers. Their decontamination efficiency was evaluated on the basis of the same challenge test.
The processes comprise of four steps. First the post-consumer collected PET containers are processed into hot caustic washed and dried flakes which are used as input to the EREMA Advanced decontamination technology. Dried flakes are heated in a continuous reactor (step 2) at high temperature and then heated in a second continuous reactor at higher temperature and vacuum (step 3) before being extruded (step 4). A similar challenge test was conducted in an industrial scale plant on the process step 3 (continuous reactor) to measure the decontamination efficiency. The step 3 was considered by the Panel to be the critical step for the removal of possible contaminants and should be kept under control to guarantee the performance of the decontamination by these processes. Having examined the results of the challenge test provided, the Panel concluded that the recycling processes are able to reduce any foreseeable accidental contamination of the post-consumer food contact PET to a concentration that does not give rise to concern for a risk to human health if:

    they are operated under conditions that are at least as severe as those obtained from the challenge test used to measure the decontamination efficiency of the processes,
    the input is to the processes is washed and dried post-consumer PET flakes originating from materials and articles that have been manufactured in accordance with the Community legislation on food contact materials and contain no more than 5 % of PET from non-food consumer applications and,
    the final bottles manufactured with the recycled pellets do not contain more than: 40 % recycled post-consumer PET for Alimpet, Esox Prodimpex line 1, Veolia, ITW Polyrecycling and Texplast line 1; 70 % recycled post-consumer PET for Vogtland PET line 1 and Texplast line 2, 80 % recycled post-consumer PET for Esox Prodimpex line 2 and 100 % recycled post-consumer PET for Vogtland PET line 2 and Kruschitz,
    the final thermoformed trays and containers manufactured with the recycled pellets and not used for packaging water do not contain more than: 65 % recycled post-consumer PET for Alimpet, Esox Prodimpex line 1, Veolia, ITW Polyrecycling and Texplast line 1; 100 % recycled post-consumer PET for Vogtland PET lines 1 and 2, Texplast line 2, Esox Prodimpex line 2 and Kruschitz.

Therefore, the Panel concluded that the recycled PET obtained from the processes Kruschitz, Vogtland PET, Veolia, ITW Polyrecycling, Texplast, Alimpet and Esox Prodimpex, intended to be used for the manufacture of bottles for contact with all types of foodstuffs and for the manufacture of thermoformed trays and containers for contact with all types of foodstuffs except packaged water, is not considered of safety concern when final articles are manufactured with no more than the percentage of recycled post-consumer PET specified above. The trays are not intended to be used in microwaves and ovens.

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