THAILAND – The Thai recycling industry is being held back by local regulations that prohibit the use of recycled material in food packaging, says the Thailand Institute of Packaging and Recycling Management for Sustainable Environment.
Although the current global recycling trend is in the use of recycled material in beverage bottles, the industry institute says it is difficult to encourage the recycling of plastic bottles in Thailand.
According to Veera Akaraputhiporn, one of the institute’s vice-chairmen, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations prohibiting the use of recycled materials such as plastic resin in the production of food and drink containers are hampering demand and growth of the domestic recycling industry.
“The FDA regulations are going against the global trend and need to be changed,” said Veera.
With a change in regulations, more investment will flow in, he noted: “If technology can be brought in, the recycling rate of plastics will skyrocket.”
Currently, none of the bottled water sold in Thai supermarkets are made from recycled plastics, and the rate of plastic recycling is at 30-40%. In comparison, cans and glass have recycling rates of 90% and 70% respectively.
In addition, Veera pointed out that a domestic recycled plastic supply would help reduce Thailand’s dependence on imported petroleum-based reins from China, and also reduce negative environmental impact.
“Regulations protect consumers”
The Thai FDA though, insists that its regulations are in place to ensure consumer safety.
"We will not allow the use of recycled material in food and drinks packaging until it has passed all safety and toxicology tests. So far, no one has provided tangible proof of this," explained Tipvon Parinyasiri, director of the FDA’s Bureau of Food.
According to Tipvon, when plastics are recycled, their original color fade, pushing producers to use more additives in order to ensure the recycled material get back its attractive looks.
While manufacturers in other countries maintain tight controls over the source of raw materials and recycle only plastic bottles that they produce themselves, most plastic recyclers in Thailand are small companies that tend to have such procurement controls in place, said Tipvon.
"If the source is unknown, you don't know what additives were used in the new plastic being recycled and what more will be added, meaning you cannot guarantee its safety," she explained.
"There is already a lot of illegal recycling going on. Some of the 20-litre bottles you see are made from recycled plastics."
Since the FDA has no control over the plastic industry, it has to regulate the use of plastics in consumer products to ensure safety, added Tipvon: "As long as the research results are not out and there is nothing to convince us of its safety, recycled materials can be used for other things such as tables and chairs but not for food."