With the European Union’s “Green Deal,” all plastic packaging placed on the market is to be recyclable or made of recycled material by 2030. Accordingly, the packaging industry is under great pressure to find solutions and produce recyclable packaging. The CORNET project “PolyCycle” (2020-2022) has already developed an initial approach to meeting this challenge. The focus was on the development of a suitable test strategy to survey the safety of recyclates. These pose a challenge compared to virgin materials in that contamination through incorrect use, as well as through the recycling chain, cannot be ruled out. Contamination by DNA-reactive substances is of particular importance, as based on a worst-case assumption by EFSA (European Food Safety Authority), particularly low maximum migration values apply.
The results from the “PolyCycle” project show that the worst-case assumption cannot (yet) be completely rejected: Problematic impurities were detected in some of the samples examined. There is therefore a need for further research: The “SafeCycle” research project is now focusing on root cause analysis. If sources of contamination can be deciphered, they can also be eliminated.
The findings on possible sources of input, process optimization and applicability will be summarized in a guideline in the “SafeCycle” project and thus enable the safe application of recycled materials. The SafeCycle project will continue to advance mechanical recycling and identify opportunities to enable the safe use of post-consumer materials in food and other applications.
The aim of the “SafeCycle” research project is to clarify the origin of any systemic contamination and to initiate appropriate preventive measures. An expansion to other materials and applications, such as: Cosmetic packaging, is to follow.
Specifically, the following project goals are being pursued:
- Validation and extension of the methodology, as well as integration of HPLC
- Further chemical analysis, by means of HPLC, for the identification of relevant non-volatile contaminants
- Analysis of different process steps and materials to explore the introduction of contaminants (e.g.: wash water, additive addition and stability, …).
- Analysis of different recycling processes (e.g.: chemical recycling vs. mechanical recycling).
- Determination of different recyclate qualities with regard to contamination, as well as identification and elimination of systematic sources of contamination
- Different recycled materials (polymers, composites, coatings)
- Estimation of exposure by migration models for food contact and further applications (e.g.: for cosmetic packaging, detergents and cleaning agents).
- Identify safe recycled materials that can be used for direct food contact and other applications.
- Enabling the use of recycled packaging materials without compromising safety
- Creation of a catalog of measures as an industry standard, to ensure the appropriate recyclate quality for safe applications
The “SafeCycle” project is a contribution to advancing the mechanical recycling of post-consumer food packaging and thereby finding applications for large quantities of waste, so that in the future the industry will not have to rely solely on chemical processes and/or thermal recycling.
The SafeCycle research project is being carried out as part of the 33rd CORNET (Collective Research Network) call for proposals in cooperation between the research partners Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging IVV, Austrian Research Institute for Chemistry and Technology (OFI) and FH Campus Wien. In Germany, it is funded as a project of the Industrievereinigung für Lebensmitteltechnologie und Verpackung e.V. (IVLV) by the Federal Ministry of Economics and Climate Protection BMWK via the AiF within the framework of the program for the promotion of joint industrial research (IGF) under the funding number 354 EN based on a resolution of the German Bundestag. The Austrian Research Promotion Agency (FFG) is funding this work with grant number FO999895421. In Austria, the project is coordinated by the plastics cluster of ecoplus. Lower Austria Business Agency Ltd.