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Retailers reject Scottish PRN idea

A proposal to set up a separate Packaging Recovery Note (PRN) system in Scotland has met with strong opposition from retailers north of the border, as well as scepticism from Defra officials.

The Scottish Government, through Zero Waste Scotland, has commissioned consultancy Valpak to research the possibility of rolling out Scottish PRNs. They expect to publish a report in the summer.

But David Martin, head of policy and external affairs at the Scottish Retail Consortium, told MRW that businesses “robustly opposes a reform of the PRN system on a Scottish basis.”

“The cost to business of operating a separate Scottish system and another for the rest of the UK would be considerable,” he said. “There would be administrative costs for setting [the new system] up and there would be questionable output benefits of doing it.”

He said it remained unclear how the new system would work, whether Scottish PRNs would be an addition to the current UK-wide producer responsibility scheme or run as a parallel one, and whether changes would include an additional levy for litter, as some draft proposals had suggested.

Martin also doubted the decision of considering changing the system before a planned European Union’s review on packaging regulations, which will take place in 2017. The review is aimed at harmonising producer responsibility systems across member states.

Martin added that it was legitimate for the Scottish Government to explore solutions to improve policies, but the decision of spending resources and time to study a proposal clearly already opposed by Scottish retailers was questionable.

Another issue was whether a Scotland’s breakaway from the producer responsibility regime would need to be approved by Whitehall.

Speaking at a conference on 15 April, Defra official Sarah Wooller expressed scepticism at the proposal and said the introduction of a separate system would require amendments to primary legislation and therefore Defra’s approval.

A spokesperson for Zero Waste Scotland said: “With regards to the question about the introduction of Scottish PRNs requiring the approval of Defra, as the research is still being undertaken, we aren’t in a position to comment on this at the moment, however we do anticipate that the research will help us to identify where process, consent or notifications would be required.”

Ian Shearer, co-ordinator of the cross-industry group The Packaging Recycling Group Scotland (PRGS), also said it was too early to comment on the proposal since the research was still underway.

“PRGS has been focusing on contributing constructively to the examination of alternative policy options,” he said.

The launch of a feasibility study on Scottish PRNs was removed from the final version of Scotland’s waste prevention programme as the responses to a consultation on the matter required further study. But the idea had not been abandoned, environment minister Richard Lochhead told MRW in a Big Interview.

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