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Food contact packaging: functional barrier

As a result of REGULATION 282/2008/UE, the prohibition of use of recycled plastic materials in contact with food at national level disappeared, which was later reaffirmed in the Royal Decree 846/2011.

This regulation focuses on the authorization of recycling plants for this application and the possibility of using recycled plastics both in direct and indirect contact with food. The authorization relies on two main points: the compliance with the same requirements than the virgin plastics, including positive lists, overall and specific migrations, traceability, declaration of conformity and avoidance of odour and flavour transmission; and the implementation of additional measures due to potential risks (in case of contamination we must ensure a decontamination).

The regulation states that the product obtained must be characterized and controlled according to the criteria established by the food contact legislation. Furthermore, conditions of use of recycled plastics must be laid down, critical points of the process must be controlled and a quality assurance is required.

After the removal of the ban, one of the possibilities for using recycled plastic materials in food packaging is their use behind a functional barrier (REGULATION (UE) 10/2011).

What is a functional barrier?

A functional barrier is an inner layer in materials and objects in contact with food that avoids the migration of substances present behind the barrier towards the food. The maximum migration of a non-authorized substance through a functional barrier is 0.01 mg/kg of food.

Therefore, it is possible to use recycled materials behind a functional barrier, although it is necessary to define and validate such barriers case by case, since their effectiveness to avoid the migration will depend on the type of food, the temperature and time of use and the characteristics of the recycled materials in the intermediate layer (concentration of possible contaminants and their diffusion coefficients).

An example of use of recycled plastics for food packaging behind a functional barrier is BANUS. This project, funded by the Seventh Framework Programme, has as main objective to developed and validate functional barriers when recycled materials are used in food packaging applications (including plastic and paper packaging), even when these materials come from non-authorized recycling processes.

This research, ending next summer, is led by AIMPLAS and nine participants from six countries take part: INNVENTIA AB (Sweden); BOBINO PLASTIQUE (France); MTM PLASTICS (Germany); DELTA PRINT & PACKAGING Ltd (United Kingdom); BUMAGA BV (the Netherlands); and HELIOMUR SCOOP, FUNDACIÓN CLUSTER AGROALIMENTARIO DE LA REGIÓN DE MURCIA, ASOCIACIÓN VALENCIANA DE EMPRESARIOS DE PLÁSTICOS (Spain).