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Recycling, of plastics in particular, and PRNs continue to have a high profile in the news.

Most recently comes the announcement by the National Audit Office (NAO) of a review into packaging recycling obligations, known as the packaging recovery note (PRN) system. The review, announced on 9th March, will assess the effectiveness of the PRN scheme, including the Government’s oversight of the scheme’s performance against its objectives. It will also look at whether government has taken a “robust approach” to preventing fraud and non-compliance.

Recently, the PRN system has come under scrutiny, especially export PRNs, with calls for government to better support domestic reprocessing of materials. The current system enables recycling notes issued on materials exported or reprocessed in the UK with claims that exported material has an advantage.

Proposals for change vary from modifications to the PRN system, favoured by many within the packaging waste sector, to substantial changes to the system. The launch of the NAO study has been widely expected and will contribute to the broad debate over recycling and the PRN system ahead of the government’s forthcoming Resources and Waste Strategy.

Meanwhile, a series of cross-sector meetings to discuss the future of the UK packaging waste system are currently taking place, organised by resource charity WRAP and the packaging trade body INCPEN on behalf of secretary of state for the environment, Michael Gove.

The aim is to build on six “attributes” established at a meeting last December, which would mean the PRN system could become “a responsive, progressive, recycling price mechanism that can focus funds to establish a more effective domestic scheme fit for the future” said Lord Deben, who organised the meeting.

The six principles are:

  • Everyone should play their part – this should result in the reduction or removal of the de minimis level to expand the number of obligated businesses (just as currently with batteries and all WEEE)
  • The system should financially reward recyclability
  • The system should financially reward inclusion of recycled content
  • Local authorities, businesses, and places of work should work towards a standard base recycling system, to provide certainty for all and allow the introduction of a universal labelling system.
  • The proceeds of the new PRN fund would be distributed by an independent body that should include cross-sector industry members to achieve desired outcomes – a precedent model of this is ENTRUST for the Landfill Tax.
  • All reprocessors and exporters of packaging waste must be obligated to be part of the system to ensure we measure the true recycling rates. Also, PERNs should be modified, not least to remove their inherent advantage over PRNs.

With our own packaging compliance scheme, ToddPak, we’ll be interested to hear the outcome.