A special report on packaging waste concludes that the UK’s packaging recovery note (PRN) system delivers low-cost compliance for producers but may have to be overhauled to achieve higher household recycling rates.
The finding comes from the annual presidential report from the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management, which also makes a case for deposit and return schemes.
The report, Packaging Waste Recovery – a European comparison, considers four existing approaches to packaging across Europe to inform the debate on extended producer responsibility (EPR), currently under the spotlight as part of the circular economy (CE) agenda.
The report suggests that, in comparison with the other systems, the PRN system is performing less well in terms of supporting the collection of household packaging waste and the development of domestic reprocessing capacity.
“These are factors that will need to be considered if the UK opts to follow Europe in pursuing higher levels of household waste recycling in the future,” it said.
The report confirms that competition is important in controlling the cost burden on producers. The CIWM believes more work will be needed to understand the relationship between costs and competition if the ‘full cost recovery’ proposal in the CE package were to be followed.
The report also found that while household collection is better supported by the schemes in Germany and Irish Republic, the relationship between revenue and infrastructure development is far less clear.
It said: “This highlights the need for both more transparency and access to data across Europe, and the need for further investigation to establish whether the unpredictability of the PRN system genuinely disincentivises investment in domestic recovery infrastructure in the UK.”
The report notes there are “divergent views” across the UK on deposit and return schemes, which are now established in other European countries, with Denmark relying solely on this mechanism to deliver its obligations.
“In the context of using EPR approached more widely, the potential of this type of model should be explored further.”
CIWM president Professor Jim Baird said: “Whether waste and resource management policy in the future is developed within a European, UK-wide or national context, it is clear that EPR will be an important part of the mix.
“The current uncertainty as a result of the vote to leave the EU should not deter us from asking what this type of approach can, and should be seeking to, achieve and whether our existing legislation is fit for purpose. This study highlights some of the issues that need to be taken into consideration and will help to inform future thinking,”