PRN guide explains role of UK system

A guide detailing how revenue generated from packaging recovery notes (PRNs) is invested back into recycling has been published – as part of ongoing work to improve transparency in the system.

The Advisory Committee on Packaging (ACP) has released the PRN System Guide to show an overview of packaging recycling and how obligated companies and reprocessors stand to benefit.

The guide gives an overview of the PRN system
The guide gives an overview of the PRN system and how revenue is invested back into packaging recycling

However, the ACP admits that the precise use of PRN funds by reprocessors and exporters is “difficult to quantify” – and clarifies that the UK system is not meant to finance the full cost of recycling or recovery.

The guide presents several case studies to illustrate projects to increase collection and recycling which have been helped to be possible through PRN financial support.

These include Recresco developing a glass recycling plant in Kent in April 2013, Beatson Clark increasing the capacity of its amber glass furnace in Rotherham, and Biffa investing £3.1 million in MRF glass cleaning technology in June last year (see letsrecycle.com story).


The guide also makes reference to a decision made by DS Smith in 2008 to invest £104 million in its Kemsley cardboard mill in Sittingbourne – which is able to handle a greater proportion of mixed papers generated by households (see letsrecycle.com story).

As well as infrastructure, the guide cites how the function of price support within the PRN system allows reprocessors to direct funds down the collection chain into different areas.

The benefits of this function allow reprocessors to “top up” the commodity value paid to collectors for a particular material so that they can attract more of a certain grade required for their operation.

A diagram illustrating the PRN revenue cycle contained within the guide
A diagram illustrating the PRN revenue cycle contained within the guide

The ACP points to a period during the early 2000s, when the landfill tax rate was set much lower than it is today. The guide states: “The role of price support to create some value in mixed glass cullet at that time meant that waste management companies were able to offer a commercially viable service to separately collect mixed glass bottle cullet from commercial premises and therefore deliver a solution which would encourage companies to segregate their business waste.”

The guide also suggests it goes ‘some way’ to addressing concerns raised by local authorities that the PRN system is not transparent. It claims that the total funding available through the system – £50-100 million per year – is probably lower than many councils expected – suggesting “limited scope” for PRNs to directly fund increased collections.

It adds: “There is no mechanism by which local authorities can bid for PRN funding, so it remains at the discretion of reprocessors and exporters to allocate the funds as they see fit according to market circumstances. This very rarely results in direct funding to local authorities so little visible direct benefit is occurring as a result.”


The guide, which has been produced by an ACP taskforce chaired by Adrian Hawkes of Valpak, comes at a time of increasing anxiety from councils and domestic reprocessors that PRN revenue is not being used to further recycling in the UK.

It notes that the PRN system is ‘unusual’ in Europe being one of only two approaches to compliance that uses a tradeable permit mechanism to achieve mandatory packaging recycling targets. The other, set up in Poland, has been modelled on the UK system.

Related Link

PRN System Guide

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