The PRN System – 5 Things Wrong

Many UK plastic reprocessing companies, like us, believe the current PRN (packaging recovery note) and PERN (packaging export recovery note) system will, if left unchecked, jeopardise the future of the recycling industry, make a mockery of the upcoming plastic tax, and potentially have a lasting impact on both the environment and jobs. 

Here are five reasons behind our petition to the government to reform or even scrap the system:

1) The oil price effect 

Whilst businesses and consumers are being encouraged to recycle more, manufacturers are choosing to purchase virgin plastic over more expensive recycled plastics. This is due to the price of crude oil dropping due to lockdown, dragging down the price of virgin plastic. The basic rules of economics would suggest that a fall in the oil prices would see a drop in plastic material prices across the entire industry, making for a level playing field, but the PRN system is actually distorting that playing field and pushing the price of recyclable plastic UP. 

2) The system is outdated

The old-fashioned compliance system, which came into force back in 1997, is not fit for purpose in the current climate. Subsequently, it’s open to misuse, with loopholes in the system being abused, along with the issue of the distorted ‘recycling’ data it produces. 

3) The data is inaccurate 

Government packaging data suggests recycling targets are being hit, but it is common knowledge in the reprocessing sector that the PRN system is flawed and the targets are simply a box ticking exercise. Due to the pandemic, UK reprocessors have been operating at a reduced capacity in recent months, and with suppliers and customers on lockdown, levels of material for export and reprocessing have been massively reduced – yet the data says that PRNs have been produced at a higher rate than this time last year which is just not possible.

4) There’s no guarantee plastic is being recycled 

The government calls them ‘recycling targets’, but in actual fact, they are simply ‘collection’ targets. These targets have been delivered through an explosion of waste packaging export companies, with annual profits supercharged by the PERN subsidy, and these exporters vastly outnumber UK reprocessors on the EA’s list of companies accredited to issue evidence of ‘recycling’. But what is actually collected, how contaminated it is, where in the world it is sent, how it is recycled and by whom, how the energy is generated, how the water is managed, what happens to contaminated waste and by products from the recycling process and whether any of it is actually reprocessed is not checked, but it appears that none of this matters actually so long as the targets are met.

5) The system is riddled with loopholes 

Recovery notes are currently open to abuse and industry fraud from a minority of exporters and traders, leading to inflated prices of recycled stock. This has left the industry and the future of UK recycling at risk – which could leave the UK with no recyclers in place to provide materials once the plastic tax is introduced.

What needs to happen

  • An urgent review of the PRN system and methods used to collate and report the data, on both environmental and economic grounds.

  • A tax on virgin plastics to stimulate the recycled market.

  • Plastic tax brought forward.

  • Priority placed on keeping all good quality recyclable plastic in the UK.

  • Sign our petition to call on the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) for immediate PRN reform.