On July 15, 2021, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an update to its 2006 guidance document addressing the use of recycled plastics in food packaging.1 This update is largely administrative in nature, with revisions intended to address information related to the Paperwork Reduction Act and other "non-substantive" editorial and formatting matters, such as the addition of a Table of Contents and updates to various links found within the document. Unfortunately, it does not provide updated guidance on current matters of widespread interest, such as tertiary recycling of polymers other than polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and polyethylene naphthalate (PEN), recently developed tertiary recycling processes, and special issues faced by recyclers of plastics other than PET.
The demand for the use of recycled plastic in food contact applications continues to increase, as industry continues to adapt and respond to the need for environmental sustainability. Moreover, the most recent substantive update to the guidance document occurred in 2006. In light of these facts, the FDA has publicly acknowledged the need to develop a substantive update to the guidance document. We understand, however, that this effort is still in relatively early stages. In the meantime, the guidance continues to contain a recommended protocol for developing chemistry data for evaluating the adequacy of a recycling process to remove chemical contaminants, which industry has come to rely upon in determining that the use of recycled plastics in the manufacture of food contact materials and articles is safe and suitable.
Notably, the recent update specifically invites industry to contact FDA to discuss alternative approaches to those discussed in the existing guidance. Such discussions would likely assist the agency in developing updated recommendations, particularly for recycled plastics that have not been used as widely as recycled PET in food-contact applications.