What is a PRN? Packaging waste regulations

Bales of plastic packaging stacked on top of each other

What are PRNs and how do they work?

In 2021, the UK produced around 2.5 million tonnes of plastic packaging waste. This waste is collected and recycled throughout the UK or exported overseas to be recycled. The UK Packaging Waste regulations state that companies that handle a certain amount of packaging need to prove they’re contributing to recycling targets.

Although the packaging waste regulations have been in place since 1996, the level of knowledge across many industries seems to be lacking. So, in this blog we’ll give you everything you need to know about PRNs.

What is a PRN?

A Packaging Recovery Note (PRN) is a document that proves packaging materials have been recycled or recovered. Companies that produce over a certain amount of waste must provide evidence that they are helping the UK work towards recycling targets. These companies, known as ‘obligated producers’, must recover and recycle a proportion of the packaging they have handled in a full compliance year. This is done by purchasing PRNs.

Prices are negotiated with the producer of the PRN’s and the revenue from those PRN’s is used to improve the countries recycling infrastructure.

The number of PRNs a company needs to buy depends on the amount of activity they have carried out on each material they qualify for. These must be issued by an accredited recycler or exporter of waste. Companies are then awarded one PRN for every tonne of packaging waste they process or export for reprocessing.

A lot of packaging is exported overseas to be recycled. Exporters of waste can become accredited to issue evidence through Packaging Export Recovery Notes (PERNs). These have the same value as PRNs and are used in the same way.

PRN’s are issued through the recovery of packaging waste, either by approved export or domestic recovery. They are also available on the open market, but most are still managed and distributed to obligated companies through Packaging Waste Regulations Compliance Schemes.

Who needs to buy PRNs?

Not everyone who handles packaging waste must purchase PRNs. The UK Packaging Waste Regulations state that, for companies to need PRNs, they must meet both of the following criteria:

Have a turnover of more than £2 million for the previous financial year

Handle over 50 tonnes of packaging waste in the previous financial year

‘Obligated producers’ are required by law under the Producer Responsibility Obligation regulations to register, calculate their obligation, and buy PRNs to prove they have recycled and recovered packaging materials. This needs to be in proportion to the amount of packaging they have placed on the market. These ‘obligated producers’ could include any business, from supermarkets to manufacturers. However, charities do not have an obligation under the regulations to buy PRNs.

How does the PRN market work?

There are six different types of materials that businesses need to buy PRNs for.

These include:

Each year, businesses must calculate their obligations for each material. They then need to purchase enough PRNs to cover how much of each material they have performed activity on.

The value of these PRNs tends to fluctuate throughout the year as it is an open market. The market is based on supply and demand of the product, not the value of the material. Factors such as buying patterns, socio-economic events, and commodity prices are all considered with the annual recycling targets set by the government to determine the price of the PRNs for different materials.

The availability of different materials and how difficult it is to collect and recycle is also factored into the prices. For example, if a material is rarely recycled, the PRN becomes more expensive. Due to the everchanging nature of recycling rates, prices can fluctuate constantly.

What happens to the funds from PRNs?

Any profits from the sale of PRNs are put back into projects to ensure that all recycling targets set in the UK are met. The money made needs to benefit and encourage recycling so companies could buy new recycling equipment or help finance waste collections.

In 2021, the revenue from PRNs totalled around £140 million, with the sale of PRNs for plastic being the biggest contributor to this. Most of this money went towards developing infrastructure and capacity. The revenue was also put into a reduction in prices and the development of new markets.

How can I stay up to date with PRN prices?

Prices are negotiated with the producer of the PRN’s and the revenue from those PRN’s is used to improve the countries recycling infrastructure.

Keeping up with monthly PRN prices is a great way to make sure you’re buying them at the best price. It will also give you a useful insight into how the market is fluctuating. Our Flame UK newsletter, WasteWorld, gives you bi-weekly updates on the PRN market so you know the prices of each PRN you need to buy.

A good place to view previous monthly PRN prices is t2e. They have actual market prices dating back to 1998 to give you a greater insight into what’s happening with PRN. LetsRecycle can be useful to track previous PRN prices, with their data going back to 2001.

Contact us

Need help creating a compliance plan for your business? Our team of experts can help you calculate your obligation and procure you PRNs at the best possible rate for you. Contact us to find out how we can help you meet your obligations in a cost-effective way.

We can improve your waste management and cut your costs.

Book a site survey today!

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