ANALYSIS: George, why didn’t you Budget for PRNs?

The Budget this week held few surprises for resource management professionals. Save for the announcement of higher packaging targets, there was little to excite or instil confidence regarding the specifics relating to waste management.

While ministers have stuck to their guns on packaging targets – legislation will be passed later this year to hike up recovery rates for selected materials – it appears the measures are half-baked, as there was no mention of any intention to reform the packaging recovery note (PRN) system.

In the run-up to the Budget, several industry and business leaders were calling for such commitment. Unless higher statutory targets go hand-in-hand with an overhaul of PRNs, many believe it’s a pointless exercise.

Coca-Cola Enterprises is among those lobbying for change. The company’s recycling director Patrick McGuirk was particularly vocal in his disappointment, saying there could be a danger of “poorer environmental outcomes” if certain modifications aren’t made to PRNs.

With no reform, it is likely the industry will end up collecting greater tonnages with little emphasis on quality just to meet targets. Faced with significant contamination levels, reprocessors will reject the bales just to watch them being shipped overseas with any closed loop potential lost along the way.

To try and shed some light on the matter, edie contacted Defra to see if the department was prepared offer any clarity on PRNs and confirm its intention to review the situation. As of yet, no response.

Elsewhere in the Budget, there was a broad commitment from the Chancellor to develop much-needed national infrastructure, but whether this will benefit energy-from-waste plants remains to be seen.

Despite David Cameron’s confirmation that the Green Investment Bank will make its first wave of £2bn investment by 2013, there was no detail given on lending remit or criteria.

Osborne also kept tight-lipped on the Government’s long-term vision for landfill tax. Whether it will continue to escalate beyond 2014, and by what rate, is maybe being pencilled into the Treasury SWOT analysis for next year.

However, EU landfill targets are looming. England’s recycling ambition now lags a poor third behind Scotland and Wales. What waste pundits are most in need of right now is investor confidence. Disappointingly, such reassurance was thin on the ground.

Maxine Perella

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