PRNs explained (in plain language)

Along with COVID-19, the climate emergency and plastic recycling, PRNs – otherwise known as plastic recovery notes – are at the top of the news agenda right now. However, many people, even manufacturing and reprocessing industry insiders, struggle to completely understand the system, so we’ve explained, in simple terms, what PRNs are, their purpose and how the government uses them to generate recycling data: 


Who sells PRNs?

PRN’s are sold by accredited plastic reprocessing companies, such as Bright Green Plastics, that repurpose packaging back into recycled plastic that can be used again by manufacturers.


Who buys PRNs?

Packaging producers buy PRN’s, these are all the businesses that produce or use packaging, or sell packaged goods on the UK market  – from supermarkets to manufacturers.


Why do they buy them? 

Under the Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) Regulations, businesses that generate packaging must finance the recovery and recycling of packaging materials in proportion to the amount they have placed on the market.The PRN system enables obligated businesses (producers) to meet these requirements by procuring recycling evidence notes known as PRNs and PERNs.


What’s the difference between a PRN and a PERN?

A PERN is a Packaging Waste Export Recovery Note issued by an accredited reprocessor, as evidence of the export of a certain tonnage of packaging waste for reprocessing outside the UK.


Who issues PERNs?

Accredited overseas reprocessors or exporters issue PERNs.


Does a PRN and a PERN guarantee that waste will 100% be recycled? 

No, there is no guarantee it will be recycled especially with a PERN as the waste is being taken out of the UK.


What does this say about government recycling data? 

The UK government needs to review both the PRN and PERN systems along with the overall waste data collection as a matter of urgency. Numbers aren’t stacking up against each other and it is likely the figures indicate the UK is hitting its recycling targets, when in actual fact, it’s very likely this isn’t really happening as the data is unreliable.


Where does the money from PRNs and PERNs go?

The Packaging Recovery Note system has been designed to allow investment into recycling projects by the companies that sell them, ensuring that the UK’s recycling and recovery industry continues to grow, and enabling the UK to meet its obligations under the European Regulations. However, this is not the case due to spiralling costs of raw materials. The income from export packaging recovery notes can be used to finance the transportation of recyclables to overseas reprocessors.


Does anyone profit from PRNs?

It is impossible to profit from the PRN scheme if you are a reprocessor operating expensive recycling equipment. Some businesses with lower operating costs may be able to profit.


Do PRNs cover just plastic? 

There are six materials for which a business might have an obligation; plastic, paper, glass, aluminium, steel and wood. Businesses must calculate their packaging obligation for the compliance year for each specific material, purchasing enough PRNs to cover those that they have performed activity on.


Are PRNs always the same price? 

PRNs are sold on an open market, which means that prices fluctuate according to supply and demand. If there is a perceived shortage of PRNs, prices are likely to increase in response, but if there is a perceived excess of PRNs, the prices will decrease.


What benefits do PRNs bring? 

If used legitimately, the PRN system would see producers taking responsibility for their waste and cash being poured back into recycling schemes.


Is the trading in PRNs always conducted legitimately? What are examples of fraudulent use? 

There are numerous ways in which the scheme can be exploited. A major weakness in the system is that PRN’s can be claimed for materials that never existed or are not of UK origin.


What are the repercussions of PRN fraud to the environment and UK businesses? 

False recycling data based on the issuing of PRNs, indicating that the UK is hitting targets – when in fact, it may well be far from it.


How can this be rectified? 

A government review of the outdated system, or a complete rethink and introduction of a new, fit-for-purpose system. The current PRN (packaging recovery note) and PERN (packaging export recovery note) system, which was created in 1997, is not fit for purpose, and left unchecked, is set to 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.


How can individuals and companies push for a PRN system reform? 

This petition is a call to the government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) to overhaul the outdated PRN compliance system as a matter of urgency. Please sign to add your support and help to make a difference: