The use of recycled plastics in food packaging needs a rethink

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LawWiser, India’s first video-only knowledge-sharing platform for the legal community, has released a consultation paper on “The Dilemma of Plastics Recycling in India”. The purpose of this consultation paper is to address and highlight the seriousness of the twin issues of safe and sustainable disposal methods for plastic waste and the adverse effects, if any, on human health and safety of the use of recycled plastics.

Recommendations from the consultation paper are shared with relevant government departments and the FSSAI for the review of the Plastic Waste Management Rules (Second Amendment), 2021, (Second Amendment) introduced on September 17, 2021.

Experts from various fields participated in the Virtual Open Forum. These included Atin Biswas, Program Manager, Municipal Solid Waste, Center for Science and Environment, Siddharth Ghanshyam Singh, Deputy Program Manager, Center for Science and Environment; Sudipto Sircar, Advocate, Supreme Court, Delhi High Court; Ashish Agarwal, Secretary, Recycle India Foundation; Vijay G Habbu, Polymer Scientist and Assistant Professor, Institute of Chemical Technology (ICT), Mumbai, among others.

There have been a series of legislations to address waste management in India. The Plastic Waste (Management and Handling) Rules 2011 were introduced to establish a regulatory framework for the manufacture, use and recycling of plastic bags to ensure effective management of plastic waste. In March 2016, the Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Climate Change (MoEFCC) to combat the threat of plastic waste further notified the Plastic Waste Management (PWM) Rules, 2016. The rules mandate the source separation of different types of waste and introduce Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) as an environmental policy instrument and assign physical, financial and environmental responsibilities to producers, brand owners and importers of plastics.

The virtual open forum hosted by LawWiser focused on the impact and concerns raised by the introduction of the Second Amendment to the Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016. The PWM (Second Amendment) Rules, 2021 state that carrying bags or recycled plastic products “may be used to store, transport, dispense or package ready-to-eat or drink food”. This is subject to the appropriate standards and regulations under the Food Safety and Standards Act 2006 (34 of 2006), by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India.

The Open Forum experts felt that it was necessary to first address all the challenges and issues before it is implemented. In this article, we understand and explore different aspects of the new notification which includes

• Understand the problem of plastic recycling in India

• Need for regulation of the informal sector

• The second amendment (2021) is not in harmony with the previous provisions

• The critical role of organizations like the FSSAI in implementing such an amendment

The experts unanimously expressed their concern that “in the absence of proper recycling facilities and standards, the question of how these rules will actually be implemented is of growing concern. And, ideally, this amendment should have incorporated specific recommendations from the FSSAI.

The concern of the experts is that:

• It is alleged that in India, the majority of the recycling industry deploys very substandard recycling machinery which can potentially make the plastic more toxic in nature. Additionally, plastic recycling standards have not been specified in India, making it all the more difficult to understand the chemical compliance of recycled plastic.

• Such authorization for use in food and medical packaging could pose a serious threat to human life and the environment. It is of great concern that the continuous recycling of plastic not only degrades the quality, but also brings potentially deadly toxic impurities apart from the problems of collecting and sorting this plastic.

Elsewhere, in countries like the United States of America, manufacturers are responsible for ensuring that the recycled product is of appropriate purity. The Food and Drug Administration in the United States is very aware of post-consumer plastic contaminants that can appear in the final product. Therefore, each proposal to use recycled plastic is evaluated before issuing a letter of no objection.

Additionally, the European Commission in 2018 was preparing to fast-track the approval of 140 recycling processes for use in food and beverage packaging. The proposal to approve said recycling processes also involved the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). However, the final approval of each process rests with the European Commission.





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