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Ecosurety joined experts and stakeholders from across the packaging waste industry to share views on the recent paper on the PRN system.

The paper ‘A discussion of the UK PRN PERN system for packaging waste and possible alternatives’ was commissioned by the Environmental Services Association (ESA), a trade association representing waste management and recycling firms, and it proposed future alternative systems to the UK’s current PRN system. Authored by Perchards and 360 Environmental, it takes a view on the PRN system past, present and future. 

Whilst positives of the current system include simple recycling data output, simple transfer funds and low costs compared to EU equivalents, the negatives include the fact that it is unpredictable, there is no growth in value or revenue and it is essentially 'arm’s length producer responsibility'.

Why does the PRN system need to change?

The discussion around the UK PRN system has come about following some years of criticism and industry debate. Some of the most prominent influencing factors include the following:

  • Circular Economy Package and draft Packaging Directives which include stretching targets (moving from a 50% target by 2020 to a 75% target by 2030)
  • June vote on Brexit (which happened mid-way through the report writing)
  • CIWM Presidential report highlighting positives and negative factors by comparison to other EU member states
  • Flat-lining in recycling rates (especially England compared to Wales and Scotland)
  • Several years of low secondary commodity process
  • The launch of the Circularety investment platform that addresses concerns over transparency and volatility in PRN prices
  • Encouragement from former DEFRA minister Rory Stewart to explore more EPR and new approaches to EPR
  • The Advisory Committee for Packaging (ACP) setup a task force to address the issue of transparency in how PRN revenues are spent, but the results are not what we were looking for.

The paper prompts industry wide debate with the aim to meet future recycling targets, ensure the maximum amount of recycling takes place in the UK that is economically and environmentally viable, and to make sure overall costs of collection and recycling are minimised. The debate is across all sectors; schemes, waste collectors, recyclers, producers, local authorities, and other industry experts.

When are the Packaging Regulations changing?

Before we get carried away with the enthusiasm of the industry to reflect on the merits and shortcomings of the existing system, these are very early days and regulatory change is a significant upheaval under current conditions.

On 17 November myself and Commercial Manager Robbie Staniforth met up with other industry experts to share our views and feedback on the proposals. We recognised through conversations with other industry representatives that the new investment platform created by Ecosurety, Circularety, addressed a number of the issues.

However, the group discussions focused on positives and negatives of the options proposed in the paper for longer term regulatory change. Consensus for significant change was limited, and the options furthest from the current setup gained minimal support during group discussions.

What does Ecosurety think?

  1. We want ambitious recycling targets, where rates are currently low, to improve the amount of value extracted from waste. Recycling continues to require as much focus as other areas higher up the waste hierarchy (prevention, design, re-use, etc.), if we are to move to a more circular economy.

  2. We believe the current system is not set up for investment in collections and infrastructure. The system of spot and forward trading encourages price volatility which helps neither producers nor recyclers.

  3. The current pull (the secondary commodity and PRN revenue) and push waste factors (legislation and linear economy model) can only sustain the current system as it stands, and changes are needed to encourage actual growth in recycling.

Join us to advance the PRN system

Ecosurety is continuing this discussion as part of our launch of Circularety in January 2017, as the here and now fix for the PRN system. We’ll be supporting the ESA and their stakeholders on the longer term solutions, promoting our views along with feedback from our members.

If you would like to join the debate, please contact me by emailing msayers@ecosurety.com or Robbie Staniforth rstaniforth@ecosurety.com. To find out more about Circularety please visit www.circularety.com.

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