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Waste & Recycling Legislation

Waste & Recycling

When you throw something away it becomes waste. More specifically, the EU Waste Framework Directive or WFD defines waste as ‘any substance or object which the holder discards or intends or is required to discard’. Driven by the need to reduce the use of raw materials and reduce waste, the interest in the re-use and recycling of products has increased rapidly. And with this interest comes the need for recycling legislation.

For recyclers, it is highly important to know exactly when they deal with waste and when not. For example, they need to establish whether their ‘raw materials’ are waste within the meaning of the WFD or possibly remain substances, mixtures or articles within the meaning of REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals).

Although everyone is in favour of a higher degree of recycling, especially for plastics, in practice it is not simple. One of the big issues that many forget but is important to realize is that that there are many (restricted) chemicals of concern currently present in products in our homes and offices, in furniture, electronics, plastics, etc. When articles are recycled, these substances may remain unidentified and are re-introduced on the market in various recycled products. In some cases, the recycled content or biodegradable properties can even be at odds with the principle of inertness and traceability requirements stipulated in the EU framework regulation. Not surprisingly, current legislation on waste and the use of chemicals is often not clear on how to assure the safe handling and use of recycling materials.

For a circular economy to be successful it is essential that customers are confident in the quality and safety of the recycled materials. If due to a lack of information on hazardous chemicals or due to the absence of clear regulatory control, this confidence is removed, it is likely that the market will demand virgin materials and the progress towards a circular economy will be seriously hampered.

REACH and Food Contact Regulations for Plastics

In order to stimulate the European transition towards a circular economy, REACH does not apply the same level of scrutiny to recycled materials as that on virgin materials. For example, Cadmium is exempted under REACH for the use in certain applications of recycled PVC, and recyclers can benefit from recycling privileges such as the exemption from registration when they put their recycled product on the market.

Regulations for food packaging in Europe do require the same level of safety for chemicals migrating into foods for all recycled and virgin materials alike. In Europe, the use of recycled plastics in food contact materials (FCMs) is specifically regulated under the Plastics Recycling Regulation (EC 282/2008). Unfortunately, in Europe no harmonized regulation exists for other types of materials such as metals, glass and (recycled) paper FCMs. Some EU Member States have introduced their own specific measures creating additional confusion. Due to a lack of control, the use of recycled paper and board for direct contact with food has been banned in certain countries out of concerns regarding the safety of those materials.

In the EU, a declaration of compliance (DOC) is mandatory for food contact plastics (including recycled plastics), active and intelligent materials, ceramics and regenerated cellulose film.  For other types of food contact materials (i.e, paper, inks), a DOC is currently not mandatory. However, it is common for actors up the value chain to request one.

EU Single-use Plastic Directive

In addition, various EU strategies and directives are being set up to regulate the types of plastics used and end-of-life of plastics products. As a part of the EU Plastic Strategy, European Parliament created a Single-use Plastic Directive to tackle marine litter coming from single-use plastic products most often found on European beaches, together with fishing gear and oxo-degradable plastics.

The Directive applies to plastic products that are meant to be used only once, to products made from oxo-degradable plastic (plastic that degrades into smaller pieces) and to fishing gear containing plastic. It also covers composite materials, for example, paper cups with a plastic lining. Furthermore, single-use plastics manufactured from bio-based substances or biodegradable plastics are also part of this Directive and they shouldn’t be seen as an alternative for fossil-based plastics.

The deadline for implementation of laws and regulations by the EU Member States is July 2021, which is 2 years after the Directive came into force. However, deadlines for the particular action points may be different, for example for bottle collection rates and PET recycled content ratio.

Ecomatters Provided Support

When regulatory rules and guidelines are not yet suited for this fast-emerging field, a case-by-case risk-based approach to recycled materials is advisable which focuses on the applications. This type of screening is specifically relevant when the use of secondary raw materials could be for different applications with different exposure profiles than the original products.

Ecomatters has a long trackrecord in such screenings, in determining the potental regulatory obstacles and in suporting companies in meeting recycling regulations. We have supported various different companies in REACH registrations and food contact and packaging regulations, specifically related to plastics use and recycling.

More specifically Ecomatters supports companies in:

  • Understanding the relevant framework regulations (EU, International);
  • Advise on and complete REACH compliance documentation and related activities, for waste & recycling practices;
  • Identify and advise on food contact and packaging regulations and current compliance policy;
  • Screening and evaluation of the food contact materials specified for its intended use;
  • Developing Declaration of Compliance (DOC) in accordance with relevant EU legislation;
  • We serve as a neutral third party to protect the intellectual property of formulas when seeking compliance certifications.

It is very important to be aware of potential chemical safety issues regarding the re-use and recycling of materials containing known or unknown chemicals of concern, especially when it comes to plastics. By being aware of this, many potential issues regarding the safety of the products can be dealt with and solutions incorporated in the recycling process before the product reaches the market.

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