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Japan Proposes New Standards on Recycled Paper in Food Packaging; Issues Guidance on Recycled Plastics

July 24, 2012

Japan notified the World Trade Organization (WTO) on July 16, 2012, about new proposed standards concerning the use of recycled paper in utensils and food packaging. The standards are based on a guidance document published by the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare (MHLW) on April 27, 2012. The recycled paper guidance ("Guidelines Related to Recycled Paper in Utensils and Food Packaging") sets out basic requirements for ensuring the safety of recycled paper intended for use in utensils and food packaging.

The guidance is quite general in nature, and does not include any detailed information on testing protocols for recycled paper. Interestingly, the guidance notes that, based on inspections and a survey of the relevant literature, residual levels in recycled paper of most heavy metals and substances like polychlorinated biphenyls, bisphenol A, phthalates, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and aromatic amine and azo compounds, are at sufficiently low levels to indicate no safety concerns (of course, this may not be the case with all recycled paper and, thus, one should consider the source of the recycled paper to ensure that these, and other potential contaminants, are present at sufficiently low levels). The guidance does note, however, that special attention is needed to ensure the safety of residual levels of lead in utensils and food packaging made with recycled paper. The guidance also states that contact of recycled paper should be avoided in microwave and oven cooking applications or in cases where there is significant contact with water or oil (e.g., tea bags, coffee filters, and oil strainers).

Recycled Plastics Guidance Document

Also on April 27, 2012, MHLW published a recycled plastics guidance ("Guidelines Related to Recycled Plastics in Utensils and Food Packaging"). This document is much more detailed than the one on recycled paper. It applies to three categories of raw materials used in the production of recycled plastics: (1) Scraps recovered in the manufacturing facility during production of products for food containers or packaging materials; (2) Recovered packaging and wrapping material of special substances made for re-use, and first used for food; and (3) Plastics recovered by alternative methods. The guidance suggests that Japan will implement a procedure wherein manufacturers and importers of utensils and food packaging can request MHLW's concurrence regarding the safe use of recycled plastics in these applications. To support such an inquiry, details on manufacturing processes, raw materials, and the results of challenge testing must be submitted to the Ministry.

In addition, the guidance provides some general comments on the studies that should be undertaken to demonstrate that chemical contaminants are adequately removed during the recycling process. The guidance makes explicit reference to U.S. Food and Drug Administration's 2006 recycled plastics guidance, and includes representative "proxy contaminant substances" that mirror the substances described in the FDA guidance. As with FDA's guidance, MHLW's guidance states that the functional barrier concept can be used to show that migration of a contaminant is reduced.