Scientists identified 377 “food contact chemicals” in polyethylene (PE) packaging leading them to call recycled plastic food packaging a “cause for concern”.
Researchers at Brunel University London, University College London and Qatar University, working with the Food Packaging Forum, analysed 116 studies into how PE packaging chemicals leach into the food and are potentially absorbed into the body of someone who comes into contact with it.
The team says it identified 377 “food contact chemicals” in PE packaging, such as the bisphenol A and phthalates that can disrupt hormones and lead to health risks. 211 of these 377 chemicals seep into food at least once during the plastic’s life cycle, the researchers say, and only a quarter of the chemicals are authorised by EU regulation, a third of which are above the safe limit.
Dr Eleni Iacovidou, who lectures in environmental management, commented: “The number of non-authorised chemicals was unexpectedly high. This finding highlights the lack of traceability and harmonisation of existing regulations.
This finding highlights the lack of traceability and harmonisation of existing regulations.
“We found a lack of sufficient evidence to show PE can be safely recycled into new food-grade packaging,”
She also said that many of the studies the team looked at don’t have enough detail, such as what the bag or container is used for, how thick it is, how it would be stored and how many times it might be reused.
“Recycled PE is increasingly sought after in the production of new food-grade packaging, yet the quality of recycled PE poses critical questions from a chemical safety perspective.” Dr Iacovidou said.
“The EU and UK’s commitment to increase packaging recycling demands a better understanding and monitoring of PE food packaging quality from a chemical perspective across the entire life cycle to enable the transition to a sustainable plastics value chain.”