VIDEO: Packaging targets ‘must coincide’ with PRN overhaul

Reform of the PRN system for packaging waste recovery notes is urgently required if the Government is to push ahead with higher packaging targets, industry figures have warned.

Concerns around the cost and transparency of PRNs and also PERNs – packaging export recovery notes – were voiced at a networking event hosted by LRS Consultancy in London last week.

Andy Doran who chairs the Resource Association said the system was too biased towards incentivising the export of recovered mixed plastics, and needed an overhaul to encourage more investment in UK reprocessing.

“Higher targets for plastics [recycling] need to come with reform of PRN and PERN to level the playing field for UK plastic reprocessors,” he told delegates.

“The present situation where PERN is issued on what is exported, not what is reprocessed, will only mean that higher targets will fuel export markets and not benefit the UK.”

The Resource Association is currently lobbying ministers to lower the PERN value for exported mixed plastics to 60% of the weight of material exported.

Under producer responsibility obligations, retailers are required to purchase PRNs from accredited reprocessors when packaging waste is recycled.

However some have expressed little confidence in the scheme and are actively pursuing alternative ways to extract better value from the recovery of certain materials.

In 2010 Marks & Spencer entered into the first of four partnerships with local authorities around the UK to recover 60,000 tonnes of food packaging each year at the kerbside.

The arrangement aims to ensure that significant volumes of cardboard and plastics are recycled in the UK with direct access to secondary materials for use in remanufacture.

Steve Read who heads up the Somerset Waste Partnership – one of the four involved with M&S – said the initiative came about because Marks & Spencer found PRNs “very, very expensive” to comply with.

“They were paying over £1m a year on administering the scheme and couldn’t demonstrate to their shareholders or customers that it was value for money,” he told delegates.

Under the agreement, the retailer is subsidising Somerset £20 a tonne to collect materials and provide traceability in the form of an end-user register. Read called for more waste producers to collaborate with local authorities on similar terms.

“If we want that closed loop system, then we’ve all got to do our bit to push our materials around our bit of the loop. There’s little prospect of new legislation under this current government, can we afford not to collaborate?” he said.

Last year Coca-Cola Enterprises also called for the PRN system to be strengthened to encourage greater levels of recycling and investment in UK reprocessing infrastructure.

Maxine Perella

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