The Agency first wrote to the sector about the move in April 2021 (see letsrecycle.com story), which received a mixed welcome.
Some argued at the time that cancelling a PRN because the recycler “did not make good” could be illegal as the Agency does not have explicit authority to cancel PRNs issued illegally under the packaging regulations.
Others however, said robust quality assurance procedures are already in place so this should not affect many operators.
A letter sent yesterday (29 June) and seen by letsrecycle.com confirmed that the plan will go ahead from tomorrow (1 July).
The letter says: “We are writing to formally communicate our position, in situations where PRNs issued by reprocessors or PERNs (packaging waste export recycling notes) issued by exporters accredited under The Producer Responsibility Obligations Regulations 2007 are found to be incorrect.”
The communication from the Environment Agency listed several examples of when it may look to cancel a PRN.
This includes PRNs issued on material exported to non-approved overseas reprocessors.
Other examples include evidence issued on non-packaging material, non UK packaging or under the wrong material type or amount.
It also covers evidence issued “in respect of packaging received or exported before the reprocessor or exporter was accredited”.
The statement explained that in most cases the EA will request that the reprocessor/exporter corrects their data via a waste adjustment and/or agrees with the producer or scheme to remove the incorrect PRNs/PERNs from the National Packaging Waste Database.
It says only in exceptional circumstances, such as if an operator is uncooperative or the non-compliance is of such a significant risk to the regime, will it escalate enforcement.
From 1 July onwards the EA now “reserves the right to remove incorrect PRNs/PERNs from the regime ourselves”.
Case by case
As outlined in the April correspondence, any decision by the Environment Agency to remove PRNs/PERNs will be on a case by case basis.
“We will take account of all the facts available to us, including any facts about the steps taken by all parties to ensure the validity”
“We will take account of all the facts available to us, including any facts about the steps taken by all parties to ensure the validity of the PRNs/PERNs,” the Agency said.
It added: “Where we intend to remove PRNs/PERNs we will write to you explaining why, and will provide you with details of our internal review process if you want the decision reviewed.”
The latest date a PRN could be cancelled would be 31 January in the year following the relevant compliance period. This mirrors the regulatory deadline for schemes/producers to obtain PRNs/PERNs to meet their obligation and submit their statement or certificate of compliance in relation to the relevant compliance period.
Much of the discussion within the packaging waste sector around potential illegal activities has centred on the export market in particular.
A long-standing argument has also been that where material is exported to countries with lower regulatory standards, more contamination can be passed off as recycling and the full value of a PRN issued.
The Agency warned in November that in 2020 it had intercepted “numerous illegal shipments of contaminated agricultural plastic waste, including silage wrap, which were destined for countries around the world” and was targeting those illegally claiming PRNs on the film exports.