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EAC chair criticises PRNs for incentivising exports

Exporting low-quality waste should not be ‘normalised’ through a packaging recovery note (PRN) system that does not prioritise domestic recycling, Labour MP and chair of the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) Mary Creagh has warned.

Seen as a ‘two-tier system’ within the industry, the terms for export of recycled material are viewed by some as being more favourable than for materials recycled in the UK.

Creagh was speaking at last week’s Recycling Association conference, where she shed further light on the investigation being carried out by the National Audit Office (NAO) into the PRN system.

Announced last month, the NAO audit will review the effectiveness of the PRN scheme, and whether the Government has ’good oversight’ and a ’robust approach’ to fraud and non-compliance.

Last year, for example, it was revealed that supermarket chain CostCutter had not paid PRNs for 17 years.

But Creagh’s comments reveal that the EAC may also be keeping a watching brief around export issues.

Creagh said: “[The PRN system] is a fairly blunt market instrument. It incentivised exports at the expense of our own domestic recycling market because, when something was exported, it is seen as being 100% recycled whereas if it is reprocessed here, it’s a lower percentage.

“We don’t want to normalise the export of low-quality waste, and we have asked the NAO to audit the money that goes into the PRN system – £130m a year [raised] – because we want to know where it goes. We couldn’t see where that money goes.”

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