Princes recycles all obligated packaging for 2018 in UK

Princes recycles all obligated packaging in UK for 2018Food and drink company Princes has announced that all of its required packaging recycling for 2018 has taken place in the UK, meaning the company has invested over £750,000 in the UK’s recycling industry.

Where our waste ends up has come under increasing scrutiny in recent times – especially since China’s imposition of import restrictions on 24 grades of solid waste in the name of environmental protection – with the producer responsibility system for packaging waste coming under fire.

In line with the UK Packaging Waste Regulations, all businesses that have an annual turnover of more than £2 million and that handle more than 50 tonnes of packaging have to prove that they have recycled a percentage of the waste they produce through the Packaging Recovery Note (PRN) and Packaging Export Recovery Note (PERN) system.

This system ensures producers contribute towards the cost of processing their packaging waste by purchasing PRNs and PERNs, either individually or a through a compliance scheme, to prove that their waste is being recycled at home or overseas. They must purchase a certain amount of Recovery Notes in accordance with the amount of packaging placed on the market.

Princes, which owns a range of household brands including Branston, Flora and mineral water brand Aqua Pura, has this year fulfilled all its packaging recycling obligations in the UK rather than shipping waste abroad. The company’s Corporate Relations Director, David McDiarmid, explained the decision: “By purchasing export PRNs [PERNs], businesses are moving potential investment into the UK’s recycling capacity overseas. At a time when single-use packaging is under such heavy scrutiny, we need to improve the UK’s ability to recycle sustainably.

“As a business, we feel that by working with Valpak, our chosen compliance scheme, to purchase all of our evidence from UK recyclers in 2018, we are investing in that much-needed infrastructure.”

Systemic problems

Not only does the UK recycling industry lose out on investment when waste is sent overseas for recycling, but it has been questioned whether that waste is being recycled at all. A report by the National Audit Office (NAO) in July noted that PERNs are issued on shipment, not reprocessing, meaning there is no proof that material exported for processing is actually being recycled once it arrives at its destination. The NAO report made the headlines in major newspapers and brought the issue of waste exports to the public’s attention.

Read more: Flawed monitoring could lead to overestimation of UK packaging recycling, says NAO

Moreover, it has been reported that there are significant differences between the amount of packaging reported through the PRN system and the amount of plastic exports recorded by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), with exporters claiming to have sent 35,135 tonnes more plastic waste abroad than actually recorded. The Environment Agency (EA) has launched an investigation into this claim, which could have widespread implications for the producer responsibility system as whole.

Princes recycles all obligated packaging in UK for 2018
Imported waste being examined at Guangzhou port, Guangdong, China
Problems with the system are being compounded by the fact that a number of countries that previously received waste from the UK for recycling (such as China, Thailand, Malaysia and Taiwan) are bringing in bans and restrictions on the waste that they will accept. As a result, the pressures on the UK’s domestic recycling infrastructure is growing.

Against this backdrop, Princes’ announcement represents a welcome investment in the UK industry. McDiarmid continued: “Recycling technology and scalability is developing all the time – this process will speed up with more UK investment, hence our move to reject export PRNs [PERNs]. As a particular focus, plastic recycling needs a much more advanced infrastructure to ensure we recycle and reuse as much plastic as possible, founded on circular economy principles.”

Steve Gough, CEO of Valpak, the compliance scheme working with Princes to ensure its recycling takes place at home, commented: “We purchase more UK evidence than any other compliance scheme in the UK, and by Princes supporting us in this way, we can ensure their evidence costs are channelled to UK reprocessing. This type of decision helps us direct funding towards UK reprocessing on behalf of our customers and therefore help investment in UK capacity.”

Princes has made strides this year to improve its record on waste, announcing in May that it was aiming for 51 per cent recycled content in all its plastic bottles by September. The company says it has achieved this goal across it soft drinks and oils ranges, and has reached 30 per cent recycled content in its HDPE plastic products.

While voluntary actions like Princes’ to invest in UK recycling are welcome, many are calling for in-depth reform to the producer responsibility system in the UK, so that producers would be required by law to pay more towards the recycling of their products – and so more money would go towards developing domestic infrastructure. With the EA investigation underway, and the government to launch a consultation on reforming the system by the end of the year, the days of the current producer responsibility system could be numbered.

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