UK remains ‘top supplier’ of recyclable products to EU

Eurostat, the statistical arm of the European Union, has published data outlining the United Kingdom has remained the top import country for recyclable materials. 

The council agreed to a general approach and now the regulations have to be approved by Parliament and the council(picture: Shutterstock)

And, exports from EU member states rose by 8.4% year on year in 2022, the data published on Tuesday (14 November) shows.

Eurostat explained that extra-EU imports of recyclable products came largely from the United Kingdom, which accounted for 47% of total paper imports, 45% of plastic and 47% of glass imports.

This far outweighed the second-largest supplier of recyclable paper, the United States (20% of extra-EU paper imports), followed by Switzerland (14%). Imports of recyclable plastic also came from the United States (8%), followed by Norway (7%). The second largest supplier of recyclable glass was Switzerland (14%), followed by Norway (9%).

The UK is the main importer of material to the EU for paper, plastic, and glass (click to enlarge)


In 2022, the EU exported 6.4 million tonnes of recyclable products (paper, plastic and glass) to extra-EU countries, which is a 8.4% increase compared to 2021. On the other hand, imports amounted to 4.0 million tonnes, a 4.2% increase compared to 2021.

Eurostat highlighted that compared with 2010, the total exports of recyclable products to extra-EU countries decreased by more than a third (-35.2%, from 9.8 to 6.4 million tonnes). This included the UK up to 2020. The total imports increased by 23.9%, from 3.2 to 4.0 million tonnes.

In terms of exports, in 2022, paper was the most exported recyclable product outside of the EU, representing more than three quarters of exports (77.1% and 4.9 million tonnes), followed by plastic (17.5% and 1.1 million tonnes) and glass (5.4% and 0.3 million tonnes).

In the same year, 2.4 million tonnes of paper were imported, accounting for over half (59.3%) of all recyclable products imported from outside of the EU. The second-largest category was plastic (20.6% and 0.8 million tonnes), followed by glass (20.1% and 0.8 million tonnes).



India was the largest destination for exports of recyclable paper from the EU in 2022 (29% of total extra-EU paper exports), followed by Indonesia (19%) and Turkey (12%).

Turkey was the largest destination for exports of recyclable plastic (29% of total extra-EU plastic exports), followed by Indonesia (17%) and Malaysia (15%).

In 2022, recyclable glass was predominantly exported to the United Kingdom (46% of total extra-EU glass export), with Switzerland (11%) and Brazil (9%) following behind.

Share this article with others

Subscribe for free

Subscribe to receive our newsletters and to leave comments.

Back to top

Subscribe to our newsletter

Get the latest waste and recycling news straight to your inbox.