Princes stops using export packaging recovery notes

Food and drinks giant Princes has funnelled around £750,000 into projects improving the UK's recycling infrastructure since the start of 2018, after refusing to use export packaging recovery notes (PRNs).

The company, which owns brands such as Aqua Pura and Flora, decided at the start of 2018 not to export any of its packaging waste in a bid to fund improvements to the UK’s recycling infrastructure.

Posting an update to the move on Monday (5 November), Princes’ David McDiarmid revealed that the company had spent around £750,000 on PRNs from UK firms after partnering with environmental compliance firm Valpak in January.

“Recycling technology and scalability is developing all the time – this process will speed up with more UK investment, hence our move to reject export PRNs,” McDiarmid said.

“By purchasing export PRNs, businesses are moving potential investment into the UK’s recycling capacity overseas. At a time when single-use packaging is under such heavy scrutiny, we need to improve the UK’s ability to recycle sustainably.”

The announcement comes shortly after Princes met its target of increasing the proportion of post-consumer recycled (PCR) content in its plastic soft drink and oil bottles to more than 50%. After setting the goal in May, the company used its partnership with Valpak to source PCR streams for its packaging lines.

Whose responsibility is it, anyway?

Under the UK’s Producer Responsibility Obligations (PRO) scheme, businesses with an annual turnover of £2m and 50 tonnes of packaging – like Princes – must show they have met Government recycling targets by acquiring PRNs, which act as evidence that waste packaging material has been recycled into a new product. There are currently 7,000 businesses caught by the PRO scheme.

All money raised from the purchase of PRNs is ring-fenced for reinvestment into waste management facilities and kerbside collections. In the UK, PRNs currently pay for around 10% of investment needed into these areas, with taxpayers covering the remaining 90%.

However, UK businesses can source PRNs from recycling facilities in any country, with around 48% of PRNs now being sourced from overseas. Indeed, recent research from the National Audit Office (NAO) found that packaging exports increased six-fold since 2002 to reach £50m in 2017.

Moreover, the NAO research highlighted that much of the waste the UK exports to nations such as Turkey and could be dumped in landfill sites due to abuses in the system and the prevalence of “rogue” PRN providers. 

The trend towards exporting waste could soon begin to peter out after China confirmed in January that it would stop accepting 24 types of plastic waste a week as mixed paper waste exports from other countries. Before the ban, the UK was exporting 2.7 million tonnes of plastic waste and 3.7 million tonnes of paper waste to China annually.

Since China’s ban, Malaysia and Vietnam have imposed temporary restrictions on recycling imports from the UK, and Poland has begun considering restrictions after fires at illegal waste dumps.

This string of actions has placed pressure on the UK to bolster its own recycling infrastructure, with some businesses and industry bodies suggesting that an increased PRN cost would be the most efficient way to finance these improvements. UK PRN costs currently average around €20 per tonne, while other European nations have an average cost of around €150 per tonne. 

Sarah George

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