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It shouldn’t be so hard to make a difference with PRNs

James Piper

Last year I had the heart-warming task of choosing which recipients should receive some of the £3,700 we raised for an organisation called Deki, which provides ethical micro-loans and training to entrepreneurs in the developing world.

It occurred to me that this is how the packaging recovery note (PRN) system should work: directing an organisation’s PRN obligation money to exactly the place it can do the most good.

After all, the PRN system also had a laudable aim: to increase packaging recycling in the UK, which it has certainly achieved since the system came into being almost a decade ago.

But recently I and many others in the industry have had the distinct feeling that the PRN system has lost its way.

Too many times I’ve heard producers complain they have no real idea where their PRN money goes. This is for a system that has allocated over £565m since 2007.

Far from being a pleasure to choose in which scheme this vital obligation money should be placed, apart from the broad six categories defined by the EA, there is no real way of knowing whether your money ends up with reprocessor X, Y or Z, or whether it’s funded an awareness campaign.

There are also questions around what happens to waste once it leaves the UK’s shores.

As for the issue of PRN price volatility, it’s enough to send any mild-mannered sustainability officer into a green-tinged rage. Last year PRN prices across all materials fluctuated on average by 653%.

Working in this system between producers and reprocessors has convinced us there should be a better way.

That is why we have launched Circularety, the only platform that shows companies exactly where and how PRN obligation funds are invested, by providing concrete and tangible projects for them to choose to put their money.

Producers and reprocessors can sign up to ‘beta test’ this service, which enables PRN money to be electronically allocated to projects that require funding.

This beta phase will list a variety of projects, and include photos and video, to help producers to see how the platform is working.

In turn, they can search for projects according to material type, project location and deadline. No actual PRNs will change hands, the idea is for producers and reprocessors to see how the platform works and provide feedback. Once this beta stage is complete, the platform is expected to go live in January.

Using Circularety, reprocessors can attract larger sums for investment and producers will be able to present details of their PRN investments to the board, use for CSR reports, and communicate with stakeholders.

We will ensure reprocessors deliver the project they say they will, and will make sure they do not renege on those promises.

Because once you’ve committed to making a difference, you need to be sure it’s followed through, for the future of the UK’s recycling system.

If you are an obligated packaging producer or reprocessor issuing PRNs or PeRNs and are interested in taking part in the beta Circularety testing phase, please register your interest at:

James Piper is managing director at Ecosurety

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