Plastic Credit Systems

Plastic Credit Systems require manufacturers to meet obligations by purchasing recycling certificates issued by accredited re-processors or recyclers based on the amount of plastic waste recycled. 

TARGET USERS: Businesses, Industry, Government

KEY CONSIDERATIONS: Plastic Credit prices are based on supply and demand, with prices fluctuating, depending on whether the market is short or in surplus, as compared to annual targets.

MORE INFORMATION: See Plastic Credits and Packaging Producers


The trade in plastic across international borders remains largely unregulated and most plastic value chains do not have a global feedback loop to hold upstream stakeholders accountable for their products after the point of sale. As of now, there is no universal governance mechanism or regulatory body to ensure transparency and accountability of actors across the entire plastics value chain.

Part of the problem are the economics of current recycling systems. As long as companies are not held accountable for the full life cycle costs of plastic pollution (including the significant costs to nature and society), recycling rates will simply remain linked to the price of oil, making it cheaper for companies to use virgin plastics instead of recycled plastics.

While plastic waste has become a critical concern to a number of companies and consumers, without new incentives it will be challenging to meaningfully scale-up waste collection and management to the levels needed to keep significant amounts of plastic from entering the environment and the world’s oceans.


Plastic Credit System instruments require manufacturers to meet obligations by purchasing recycling certificates issued by accredited re-processors or recyclers based on the amount of plastic waste recycled. This system uses a Recovery Note (RN) to provide evidence that waste material has been recycled into a new product.

In the UK, the system is based on packaging and Packaging Recovery Notes (PRN. PRNs are issued by accredited preprocessors and act as an incentive to recycle. They are a way for businesses to offset the amount of packaging that they place into the market. Packaging producers and handlers are obligated to purchase a number of PRNs every year based on the type and amount of packaging they handle. This is referred to as the businesses’ PRN obligation.

In order to comply, a business must calculate their PRN obligation (packaging obligation) for the current compliance year in each specific material. There are six materials for which a business might have an obligation: plastic, paper, glass, aluminum, steel and wood. PRNs are material specific and businesses need only to purchase PRNs to cover material that they have performed activity on.


Extended Producer Responsibility initiatives, taxes, levies and other financial instruments serve as similar solutions according to the “polluter pays” principle.


The Plastic Waste Reduction Standard 
The Plastic Waste Reduction Standard (Plastic Standard) will establish rules and methodologies to quantify and account for the recovery and/or recycling of waste, incorporate social safeguards to protect waste collectors, and to implement a verification system using independent auditors. The role of the Plastic Standard is to assess, verify and report on the impact of projects that increase plastic recovery and/or recycling, and to generate credits for activities that exceed baseline collection/recycling rates. Learn more at:

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