EA updates PERN guidance to crack down on contamination

The Environment Agency (EA) has published updated packaging export recovery note (PERN) guidance, to crack down on waste contamination.

Under the Packaging Waste Regulations, waste producers (or compliance schemes representing producers) are required to purchase the notes to prove that they have met their packaging recovery/recycling obligations.

Historically, waste exporters would be issued with a PERN when they exported waste for recycling abroad (whether or not the waste was contaminated, and without knowing whether it would actually be recycled), whereas those processing waste in the UK would ony be issued with a packaging recovery note (PRN) once they proved that the waste had been recycled. As such, UK reprocessors argued that the system created an ‘uneven playing field’ and, what with increasing government recycling targets, had led to increased incidents of PRN fraud.

Guidance details

To try and curb this, the EA has now issued guidance that states that waste exporters will need to prove that the waste shipments are not contaminated. It reads: ‘You can issue ePRNs or ePERNs on all UK-sourced packaging waste received for recovery or exported for reprocessing during your accreditation period.

‘You should never issue ePRNs or ePERNs twice for the same waste packaging, for example, if you receive packaging waste but pass it on to another accredited site for reprocessing or export you must make sure you don’t issue ePRNs/ePERNs on that waste.

‘Packaging waste doesn’t include:

  • non-UK sourced packaging which became waste outside the UK
  • contamination within the waste and non-packaging waste (you must be able to prove this and comply with the Waste Shipments Regulation if you’re an exporter)
  • packaging offcuts (material that was never turned into packaging)
  • on end of waste loads that you will further process.

‘This information must be available for auditing and may involve checks on your suppliers.’

Further, the EA guidance states that for those exporting packaging waste material to non-OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries, they must provide one of the following evidence trails to confirm the waste is being legally, and sustainably, handled:

  • a statement from the competent authority proving the overseas site receiving the packaging waste material is regulated and meets broadly equivalent standards
  • a valid photocopy of the site’s environmental licence or permit relating to that process plus translation
  • a statement from the reprocessor that the site is regulated, and works to broadly equivalent environmental standards to those that apply in the EU (along with contact details for the competent environment regulator; a photocopy of a recent inspection report from the environmental regulator; and
  • details of any certificates the reprocessing site holds for environmental standards).

However, specific evidence will not need to be submitted if all five of the following conditions are met (and there is documentation to prove it):

  • the packaging waste is separated at source, or processed, to ensure it is exported for reprocessing within a shipment of similar material;
  • there is a well-established international technical specification for the exported packaging waste material that the consignments meet;
  • the material only needs only limited processing overseas before it is recovered, and the recovery process has losses that meet EU industry standards;
  • processing the waste material before recovery does not include hand-sorting that may cause significant harm to human health; and
  • the material goes through a recognised form of recovery, and is unlikely to cause significant harm to the environment.

The EA warns that it believes it ‘likely’ that only exports of metal packaging waste (including metal packaging waste within shipments of the right grades of scrap metal) will fulfil all five conditions.

'Key to the implementation of this guidance will be enforcement'

The updated guidance has been welcomed by members of the waste and resources industry, with Ray Georgeson, Chief Executive of The Resource Associaton, saying: "For some time, we and colleagues involved in domestic reprocessing have called for a level playing field on this issue and are delighted to have this response from government. Key to the implementation of this guidance will be enforcement, alongside renewed vigour in the policing of TFS [Transfrontier Shipment] regulations, including clarity from regulators for all in the recyclate supply chain around the enforcement of TFS.  

"With good enforcement this will rectify the inconsistency that has penalised UK reprocessors and will act as encouragement for further investment and employment in the UK."  

Read the updated PERN guidance or find out more about the disparity between PERNs and PRNs.