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European Commission to Extend Deadline for Closing Plastic Additives List

December 20, 2007

Santa's not the only one making a list and checking it twice. The European Commission (EC) is working to complete its list of plastic additives for food packaging, and apparently is ready to grant a temporary reprieve for those additives not currently included.

The EC is expected to soon vote on the 5th Amendment to the Plastics Directive, which will extend the date when the current list of additives allowed for use in food contact plastic materials will become a closed, "positive list." The EC has asked the member states to consider Jan. 1, 2010, as the new deadline.

Any substance not on the "positive list" can't be used as an additive in plastics after that date. Previously, additives would have been banned if they were not included on one of two lists (that is, the "positive" or "provisional" list) by the end of this year.

As reported in my March 2007, column, the European Commission's Plastics Directive (2002/72/EC) contains a list of additives (in Annex III) that are permitted for use in the manufacture of plastic food contact materials throughout the European Union. This list is still "incomplete" because it does not yet fully harmonize the laws of the EU member states.

In 2004, the Plastics Directive was amended (2004/19/EC) to require this incomplete list to eventually be made "complete," and permitted the Commission to establish a "provisional list" of additives that could continue to be used beyond the date chosen by the Commission, pending completion of their review and addition to the positive list.

In following this mandate, the Directorate General for Health and Consumer Affairs (DG SANCO) established a provisional list, which was to be made up of additives that were subject to a petition filed by the end of 2007 and that were currently on the market in the EU. This list and the incomplete list on Annex III were expected to be "closed" as of the end of this year, meaning that many additives that are on neither list would no longer have an acceptable regulatory status as of January 2008.

DG SANCO has announced that, by the end of 2007, a "provisional list" of all substances for which the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has accepted petitions prior to Dec. 31, 2006, as well as those that have already been approved, will be published on its website. However, they will not be the only additives permitted for plastics—at least for the time being.

Under the draft proposal, substances not included in the provisional list will be allowed to remain on the market until at least Jan. 1, 2010, subject to the national law of the member states. This new date takes into account the time needed to transpose the directive into national law and allows time for phasing out of products on the market which are not on the list. However, the final date will depend on feedback from member states.

Thus, it seems that a reprieve—temporary as it may be—is in the works for the plastics industry. However, this should not be taken for granted. It is important that companies which use additives in plastics make sure that those additives are on Annex III or the provisional list, or that their suppliers are taking steps now to ensure that they will continue to be permitted for use after January 2010.

Used with permission. Copyright FOOD & BEVERAGE PACKAGING, December 2007.