10 July 2018 by Steve Eminton

Monthly data fails to alleviate PRN concerns

With the value of wood packaging waste recovery notes (PRNs) now above the £30 mark and rising, the latest figures published by the Environment Agency show an increase of almost 50,000 tonnes of wood recycled over the past month.

The data – which covers all material types – comes within the Agency’s monthly summary of recovery and recycling using figures entered on to the National Packaging Waste Database and published today (10 July). But, as the figures are voluntary, experts in the field regard them cautiously, with one describing them as “spurious” and another as “useful”.

What is clear from the latest figures is that even allowing for inaccuracies (and the data appeared this morning with errors that have now been fixed),  is that wood PRNs are still needed in very large numbers.


Recycling progress in first six months of the year (from voluntary reporting)

According to the Database, 128,273 tonnes of packaging wood (primarily pallets) has been recovered for recycling. This year’s target is in the order of 420,000 tonnes.


Some in the sector continue to raise concerns as to whether the target will be met because of the demand for waste wood from biomass plants which the wood sector has agreed to supply, often on long term contacts which “cannot” be breached.

And, with some wood PRNs being used in the past to meet the general recycling obligation, this is putting the pressure on prices for other materials including paper and steel with the value of these PRNs also on the increase.

One commentator said: “Wood continues to be a huge problem. We are still yet to find that the increase being commanded in the value of the wood PRN is leading the industry to recycle more packaging material.”

And, he added: “It remains a concern that Defra has imposed higher wood recycling targets for the UK this year when the European Union has proposed lower recycling targets for wood.”


Andy Letham, sales and marketing manager at the 2TE, the Environment Exchange, said that the latest set of figures did indicate a “substantial growth in a number of materials” with the wood figures going some way towards the targets. “But these have to grow further and there needs to be further growth across all PRNs.”

He also reflected that a lot of companies may be waiting for PRN prices to reduce, adding that this may not be the best option. “We say spread out your buying to achieve a more average price rather than coming to the table late.”

Mr Letham also reflected that the figures showed that plastics recycling was strong. “At a level of £60 per tonne the PRN is helping to give good market support to allow plastics to be recycled. The sector was also boosted by the plastics carry over this year of around £73,000 tonnes.”

Wood packaging

There are some concerns that biomass contracts may mean wood packaging is not being recycled

‘Historical perspective’

David Duggan of Recycle-Pak said that “hopefully and taking an historical perspective, the high value of PRNs will feed into the market and help boost the supply of PRNs. I would like to think that the amount of PRNs will rebound in the last quarter of the year.”


Ian Andrews, of PRN Trader, commented in his weekly report on both the PRN markets and the very fundamentals of the system.

Mr Andrews, who was writing ahead of today’s figures, noted: “With paper and steel prices continuing to creep up, there are concerns that glass volumes will soon be targeted within the material mix jostling to meet ‘general recycling’ demand. With monthly figures due to be released on the 10th July, quickly followed by the second set of published figures on the 23rd July, buyers will be hoping for more positive news. The principle of the PRN system is that increased note values should result in increased supply, however with little to no growth in supply at current price levels those who question the system may finally have the evidence that it is not working as it is designed to.”


An alternative view was expressed by one compliance scheme operator that the current rising price of PRNs showed that the system generally was in a “healthy state” and that the extra money would support the market sufficiently to ensure enough material is recycled “even if the wood sector is out on a limb”.


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