15 September 2020 by Joshua Doherty

Monthly packaging data shows ‘mixed’ picture

Provisional monthly packaging data published by the Environment Agency has been described as “mixed” by some compliance specialists, although there is generally confidence that recycling targets for 2020 will be met.

The data, covering the month between 10 August-10 September 2020,  was published by the Environment Agency on 10 September. The data is voluntary but is seen as giving a reasonably accurate picture of the recycling and recovery position of the packaging requirements under the UK’s PRN system.

The numbers show a stronger performance for paper and plastic, up 30% and 22% respectively on the same period last year. However, there were falls for glass remelt (4.4%) , wood (15%) and steel (0.3%) in the same period.

Aluminium also saw a 10% fall when compared to the same month in 2019.  It still remains around 36% up overall in the calendar year to 10 September, compared with the same period in 2019.

As shown in the table below, paper (5.5%),  glass remelt (4.4%)  and wood (15%) are all down so far this calendar year. The waste paper sector is facing a potentially tough autumn with restrictions in China, Turkey and Indonesia that could disrupt the supply of PRNs.


Various interpretations have been made of the data with a consensus that barring global economy interruptions or a strong return of the Covid-19 pandemic, the legal targets behind the system will be met. However, there are strong concerns that for some materials, notably plastic, that there could be some irregularities within the system. Within the UK recycling sector there are concerns as to whether the Environment Agency is paying close enough attention to the regulation of export PRNs in particular.

And, only last week the vice president of the National Organisation of Recycling in Turkey, Ercan Yurekli, claimed that the UK’s PRN system was a factor in the shipment of garbage along with plastic packaging to Turkey. Mr Yurekli said that while Turkey’s Environment Department was looking at the issue, the UK Environment Agency needed to act more rigorously. (see letsrecycle.com story)


David Daw, project analyst at compliance scheme Valpak, said the data shows a “mix of fortunes”, but overall painted a positive picture.

“Overall it looks  positive for the UK to easily comply this year,  even with such a turbulent 2020”

David Daw, project analyst, Valpak

He said: “The increase in paper is particularly welcome, as it will help to contribute to the general recycling obligation which had been looking a little short especially as the other normal major contributor wood has been hit hardest by the COVID restrictions.

“Some of the materials, such as glass, have seen decreases, but this is a single months figures so should have little impact as the numbers across the year have been positive. Overall it looks  positive for the UK to easily comply this year,  even with such a turbulent 2020.”

Paul Van Danzig, policy director at the Wastepack Group, also said a “mixed view could be taken” and this was down to a number of reasons.

Paul Van Danzig, policy director at the Wastepack Group

“I don’t think there is any reason to worry yet, as these optional monthly figures could be lower due to the ‘August effect’ we often see, when many people are away. If these falls are reflected in the quarterly data, then people might be more concerned. Overall it seems we are on track to hit targets though, which is a positive”.


Analysis of the figures shows that the boost in aluminium in  2020 has been in part due to an increase in the material extracted from Incinerator Bottom Ash (IBA).

In the second quarter of 2020, 11, 245 tonnes of Aluminium extracted from IBA was counted towards the figures, up from 132 tonnes in the same period in 2019 and 71 tonnes in Q1 2020.
In total, this makes up around a third of the overall figures published for the first two quarters.

This comes amid great concerns last year about aluminium and plastic PRNs, which both saw record high PRN prices (see letsrecycle.com story).

‘Bounce back’

Head of packaging at Clarity Environmental, Martin Trigg-Knight

Head of packaging at Clarity Environmental, Martin Trigg-Knight, said the figures point towards a strong compliance year, and said there is potential for materials seeing a fall to bounce back later in the year.

“The latest monthly data shows healthy production across most grades, and very strong production for plastic, which had its strongest production of any month this year. Plastic is just over 79% of the requirement for the year if carryover is factored in,” he said.

Mr Trigg-Knight added: “The ‘Glass other’ category reported lower production numbers in August, and glass remelt mirrored a lower report for August. However, there is potential for this to be increased with additional tonnage reported in next months’ figures and the full quarter figures in late October

“Overall the picture painted with August production is a positive one that could lead year ending comfortably on target for many PRN grades, and potentially a good start with carry over to the 2021 compliance year.”

Work to do

Ashley Clay, procurement leader and Comply Direct

While the monthly data is provisional and is optional for compliance schemes, it does give an indicator as to whether targets will be met.

The last set of quarterly data, published in July and covering the second quarter of 2020, showed that all materials were on track to hit their targets for the year (see letsrecycle.com story).

Ashley Clay, procurement leader at Comply Direct said there is work to do for some materials in order to hit targets.

He remarked: “Some materials such as glass are showing that there is still work to be done in 2020 in order to hit our annual recycling targets, although some materials such as plastic and aluminium look well on their way to reaching target already, despite us still being in Q3.”

Mr Clay added:  “Attention will now immediately turn to the Q3 unverified data release in late October to gain a clearer perspective on the task ahead for the UK, as well as looking to see what materials will contribute to general recycling, as this has potential to be a much more varied mix than previous years.”

And, Mr Clay said that the sector is also trying to look ahead to 2021. He said: “As we move into the final quarter of the calendar year, the industry grows increasingly keen for visibility of the 2021 recycling targets which are expected from Defra in the coming months.”


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