The PRN Pill: Too Bitter To Swallow?

James-Piper-(2)CIWM’s recent report has helped shine a spotlight on the PRN system, and producers need to know where their PRN money goes, says ecosurety’s James Piper. So is the PRN pill too bitter to swallow, and what is the solution?


Piper-PRN-PillThe debate over whether the PRN (packaging recovery note) system is fit for purpose has stepped up, thanks to the recent CIWM Presidential Report [see Jim Baird’s article in the CIWM Journal, July 2016, or download it here, which shines a light on areas long-argued as being in urgent need of improvement.

High on the list is greater transparency about where money handed over by compliance schemes goes; the current over-reliance on exports by the UK and Ireland; and PRN market volatility, which makes planning infrastructure projects or exceeding recycling targets more difficult.

ecosurety believes producers need incentives to recycle, but we simply do not believe the present system works as optimally as it could. It is not ideal for producers who collectively spend an average of £100m a year, or reprocessors who cannot realistically budget for improvement year-to-year.

As a conduit between producers and reprocessors, we have been working for some time with both sides to understand how the system could be improved, and this year we are making a commitment as an organisation to ensure that it does, for all concerned.

At the heart of the PRN system is the issue of control: we believe not enough is given to either reprocessors or producers, to inspire long-term confidence.

Furthermore, we are concerned the system does not fully grasp producers’ growing resentment that they cannot trace where their obligation money goes. With CSR issues climbing the corporate governance agenda, and operating pressures on manufacturers, producers are increasingly unwilling to swallow the PRN pill without seeing how it makes the recycling industry better. Over time, all of the above could seriously undermine the credibility and efficacy of the PRN market, we believe.

We are not arguing for the removal of the PRN system, as it has provided significant investment over the years, which has helped develop the UK’s current recycling infrastructure.  But we do feel the market has reached a critical juncture and requires help… not help in the interventionist sense, but rather help for producers to gain more control of where their money goes, and to see where it goes.  We also believe the majority of reprocessors want to see that too.

We therefore want a shake-up of the PRN system that incentivises more, not less, packaging recycling; greater transparency and trust between reprocessors and producers; and projects that create something tangible and impactful.

This year ecosurety is pledging to help producers and reprocessors to work together better to improve the PRN system and increase rates of recycling in the UK. We hope you will join us.

James Piper is commercial director at ecosurety and leads marketing, sales, account management, operations and procurement, to ensure ecosurety’s 1,000-plus members comply with environmental legislation. He also develops relationships with some of the largest brands and actively lobbies the waste and recycling industry on issues that affect it and members’ supply chains.

ecosurety is hosting an event this September in London to improve transparency in the PRN market for producers and re-processors. CIWM members are eligible to this free, one off evening dinner. To register for a limited space, please go to

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