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Reform PERNs to cut exports, says Labour

Shadow environment minister Mary Creagh has said a Labour government would “disincentivise” recovered material exports.

Mary Creagh

Creagh told a British Plastics Federation’s (BPF) recycling conference: “When we export waste or resources we export the jobs that go with them in reprocessing”. The MP first made the claim at her party’s recent conference in Manchester.

With China targeting a 70% plastic recycle rate by 2017, Craegh warned, it would stop importing UK material, so the industry had to work out how to respond.

She said Labour would look at reforming the PRN and PERN system to “disincentivise” exports.

Last month the BPF warned that high PERN prices were subsidising exporters, and called for reform.

The Recycling Association, which represents recovered paper exporters and merchants, hit back at Creagh following her conference speech.

Chief executive Simon Ellin described the comments as a “gross oversimplification”. He said without export markets UK recycling infrastructure would be “decimated”. He added that over two decades 50% of UK reprocessing capacity disappeared while supply of recyclable material had continued to grow.

But industry non-executive director Paul Levett told MRW the argument was not about banning exports but ending subsidies and clamping down on illegal exports.

He said: “I’m pleased that Defra and Mary Creagh have both recognised that the UK would generate green jobs by stopping illegal exports and correcting the flaw in the PRN system to give domestic reprocessors a level playing field.

“This is not inconsistent with supporting free trade for legal exports,” he added.

Ray Georgeson, chief executive of the Resource Association which represents reprocessors also backed Creagh for drawing attention to the concerns of business over the supply of materials.

The current system favoured export, he said, “as this commands PERN value on full tonnage shipped with no account for process losses”. 

“This facility is not available to UK reprocessors, and continues to distort the market.  A level playing field is needed in which UK manufacturers can compete fairly for access to this valuable resource.”

Georgeson added that “legal and compliant” exports should remain part of the recycling sector, but more must be done to tackle illegal exports.

Environment secretary Owen Paterson said: “Trade in recyclable materials is a global market and I want to see UK businesses make money from it to help boost our economy. I want to see our own recycling industry grow, so we can grasp this opportunity with both hands.”

• Creagh also hit out at local government minister Eric Pickles’ bin fund. Referring to MRW’s exclusive research, Creagh told the BPF audience that only one council had put in a bid for a share of the £250m that would see it return to weekly residual waste collections. She said despite the fund being “Pickles’ personal pet project”, in the real world, “councils do not want to be landed with weekly bin collections”.

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