Under the packaging regime, businesses or compliance schemes acting on their behalf must demonstrate that they have taken steps to recycle and recover packaging waste.
In almost all cases, this was achieved by purchasing PRNs from recyclers or exporters accredited by the Environment Agencies. Until last year, the accreditation scheme was voluntary, but since 1 January 2004 the scheme, along with the PRN system, has been the sole, statutory method of demonstrating compliance.
In the light of concerns that PRNs were being issued erroneously, particularly in the wood and plastics sectors, an investigation into wood recyclers was carried out last year by the Environment Department (DEFRA) and the Agencies. When it became clear that some PRNs had been issued that should not have been, DEFRA was forced to revise the official national recycling rate downwards by several percentage points (ENDS Report 346, pp 19-20 ).
A second investigation, into plastics recyclers and exporters, was launched by DEFRA in February.
Last autumn the Agency suspended the accreditation of some firms while they were investigated. A number have had their accreditation cancelled.
When a firm has its accreditation suspended this is normally for the period of investigation. Once the investigation is complete the accreditation is either reinstated or cancelled. Firms whose accreditation has been cancelled can re-apply the following calendar year, but will have to demonstrate that the factors leading to the loss of accreditation no longer apply.
Some compliance schemes have complained that the Agencies have done little to tell businesses and compliance schemes which companies have been blacklisted.
Since September, 14 firms have had their accreditation suspended or cancelled (see table).
Most are plastics reprocessors or exporters, but the list includes recyclers for all the major packaging materials except steel. It includes chipboard manufacturer Sonae, which was prosecuted last year after repeated discharges from its Kirkby site cleared a local brook of wildlife (ENDS Report 345, p 53 ).
It also includes a company belonging to major aggregates group RMC which is a major seller of glass PRNs to businesses and compliance schemes, including Valpak.