According to the European recycling management strategy, plastic packaging must be reusable by 2030. The packaging industry is therefore under immense development pressure to offer solutions for recyclable food packaging. At the same time, however, there are considerable safety concerns with regard to recycled plastics in direct contact with food. It may be possible to dissolve a large number of different substances from recycled polymers in low concentrations that cannot be detected even with the latest analytical methods. In the worst case, these substances are DNA-reactive carcinogens. Based on this assumption, EFSA has derived very low migration limits for recycled polymers, which currently makes it impossible to use recycled materials from post-consumer waste for polyolefins or for polystyrene – the most commonly used plastic packaging materials.
However, if carcinogens or other critical groups of substances in post-consumer materials could be excluded, the limit values for the maximum permissible migration would increase by a factor of 600. This would be an enormous breakthrough for the recycling of food packaging and would open up new possibilities for the use of recyclates in food packaging. One approach to exclude these groups of substances is to use in vitro bioassays in combination with chemical analyses. However, the sampling of bioassays has been developed for the analysis of pure substances and is not yet optimized and validated for the detection of trace impurities in complex polymer extracts.
The objectives of the project are therefore clearly defined: The development and validation of a test strategy for carcinogens in recycled plastics and the analysis of selected packaging relevant recycled materials (PE, PP, PET, PS) by in vitro bioassays and chemical methods (GC, HPLC, MS) to guarantee the risk-free use of recycled packaging materials.
The IGF project "PolyCycle" runs as a transnational project of joint research in the AiF-funding variant CORNET. The project consortium further consists of the research association ecoplus Niederösterreichs Wirtschaftsagentur GmbH and the research centres Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging IVV, Austrian Research Institute for Chemistry and Technology (OFI) and FH Campus Vienna.
The IGF project presented here by the Research Association of the Industrial Association for Food Technology and Packaging (IVLV e.V.) is funded by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action via the AiF as part of the program for the promotion of industrial community research (IGF) based on a decision of the German Bundestag.