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ACP chair says PRNs could be replaced

The chairman of the Advisory Committee on Packaging (ACP), Phil Conran, has said that Package Recovery Notes (PRNs) could be replaced in the long-term if a suitable alternative is found.

The chair of the body which advises Defra on packaging legislation said that there was a potential need for a more stable pricing system in the UK.

Conran said: “I don’t think anybody would claim that PRN is an effective long-term investment tool. There is a requirement for more stabilised pricing system – however this could be seen as adding more direct burden to industry.

“If it is found that a new system is likely to secure a longer-term framework to improving recycling rates then I would recommend it.”

However any new plans put forward by the ACP could be hampered by government initiatives to cut red tape in the waste sector. In July Business secretary Sajid Javid launched plans to cut red tape in five key industry sectors including energy, waste, agriculture, care homes and mineral extraction. The sector reviews are aimed at saving businesses £10bn over the next five years.

The government initiative has meant that any recommendations put forward by the ACP which increased the administration burden on businesses would is unlikely to be taken up.

Conran admitted that proposing any new legislation was difficult in the current environment, but that bold options would still be put forward.

“It is extremely difficult. This is why we are tackling the easier issues that do not need regulatory changes first. We are also looking on a macro level on what can be done. We can’t make changes immediately but we could look at the PRN system achieving something different going forward.”

“We are however speaking from the same hymn sheet. Defra and the EA are open to suggestions, but end of the day have their political constraints, getting interest at ministerial level is difficult and trying to get them to implement any large scale change is difficult. We can gradually make a case for a larger change going forward.”

The ACP was relaunched in 2010 to advise Defra on the packaging recycling targets under the producer responsibility regime. The committee is represented by members drawn from across the industry including Tata, Alupro, the Recycling Association, Chase Plastics and Sita as well as the Environment Agency.

UK processors have long argued that PRN’s that a disparity between PRNs and PERNs discriminated against processors because PERNs could include contaminated material

The Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee (LARAC) believes that it is the right time to think about alternatives to PRNs.

LARAC chief executive Lee Marshall said: “We agree that PRNs are effective at meeting targets, however the current system doesn’t appear to facilitate further collections and reprocessing infrastructure, so we don’t think it works from that point of view.

“Not enough work has been done to find out what could or should replace PRN’s in the future and we are at the point where we should be having that conversation.”

In July, following Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) consultation, Ecolateral produced a report which advocated structural reform to deliver resource efficiency in the UK. The report stated that the PRN system was under challenge due to lack of transparency and costs.

The report said: “The use of traded permits was never anticipated by the trade associations in the 1990’s and now they recognise the incremental costs incurred by market makers.

Former director of Biffa and founder of Ecolateral Peter Jones said: “What is needed is a back to basics approach with producer responsibility. All the issues which the DECC consulted on earlier this year are linked but no one in government is taking a holistic approach, especially when a new message is ripe for delivery.”

Not all industry experts believe the PRN system should be scrapped. Alupro chief executive Rick Hindley said: “We do not think the PRN system should be scrapped, it should be reviewed and updated.

“We are obviously aware of the different systems around Europe, and wouldn’t rubbish the PRN system compared to other systems in Europe, but we need to bring the experience from across the continent together to reshape the PRN system. It is unique but has been proven to work in the past.”

Jane Bickerstaff from the The Industry Council for Research on Packaging and the Environment said “The disparity between PRNs and PERNs should be improved, however the current system has enabled the UK to hugely increase the amount of used packaging that is recovered and recycled. With that in mind improving rather than replacing the system would seem most sensible.

“We need to remember that recycling is not the only way to improve resource efficiency and the environmental impact of supply chains. Flexible packaging and mixed materials are equally as resource-efficient as recyclable packs, without recycling. Recycling needs to be promoted where it delivers a net gain in resources.”

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