1 April 2021 by Joshua Doherty

Packaging data for 2020 ‘a credit to sector’

Provisional data published by the Environment Agency which shows that packaging targets were comfortably met in 2020 have been welcomed by compliance specialists. 

The data, published on 25 March, shows that all materials comfortably hit targets for the year using just quarterly data before carry in PRNs from last year were accounted for.

The figures above show that even without the carry over from 2019, all targets were comfortably met

Once carry over from 2019 is included, the targets were hit even more comfortably. Contributing to the 2021 compliance year will be  585,361 carry over PRNs, with paper contributing 299,118 PRNs alone. One PRN (or export PERN) is issued per tonne of material recycled.

The table above excludes recovery (energy from waste) PRNs, as they will be phased out from this year. However, in 2020, a total of 662,574 recovery PRNs were traded against a target of 619,019, giving a 107% progress to target score.


David Daw, project analyst at Valpak, said the data is a “credit to the sector” in the way that services have been maintained given the difficulties faced in 2020. He also pointed to data which shows that the amount of plastic recycling taking place in the UK, rather than being exported, is increasing.

The data shows an increased level of plastic being recycled in the UK

The data shows a total of 484, 254 tonnes were processed in the UK, up 36,817 from last year. This compares with 688,222 tonnes which were exported.

“This bodes well for 2021 as we hopefully begin to exit lockdown restrictions,” Mr Daw said.

He continued: “While recycling has grown the reported obligation in the end of 2020 was only around 35,000 tonnes higher than in 2019 despite the higher targets; as demand has reduced.  In total around a 100 fewer companies were registered by the end of 2020 than in the previous year probably as a result of the Covid Crisis.”

Mr Daw explained: “Together these have helped to contribute to the PRNs available for carry over into 2021 which will put the UK well on its way to achieving the targets this year even allowing for the further increases for all the materials (excluding wood).  Depending on how fast the economy recovers it is possible that this will continue into at least 2022 and  that the demand for PRNs will be lower than would have been previously forecasted”.


The data is the first since Defra published its consultations on the reform of the EPR system which will send of the existing PRN system as it operates now.

Separate data from the Environment Agency showed that the overall total cost to businesses last year for obtaining recycling evidence was over £230m which is slightly reduced over the figure for 2019.

While this is thought to be the minimum and could be slightly higher, this highlights the contrast to the recently released consultations which expects the cost under future Government proposals to be at least initially  up to £2.7bn per year for EPR and a potential further £2.15bn for an all in DRS.

Carry over

The carry over in particular was raised by many in the sector, who have said they give producers a “good start” for the year ahead.

‘Good start’

Sandeep Attwal, procurement manager at Ecosurety, pointed to significant growth in December and said carry-over PRNs will provide a “good start” for 2021.

“Despite the challenges faced by recyclers and exporters of packaging waste, the UK met its 2020 recovery and recycling targets at a cost of £230m to packaging waste producer”

Sandeep Attwal, Ecosurety

“Despite the challenges faced by recyclers and exporters of packaging waste, the UK met its 2020 recovery and recycling targets at a cost of £230m to packaging waste producer,” she said.

Ms Attwall added: “December reported significant growth which led to a record carry over of PRNs into 2021.  The confirmed carry over PRNs gives producers a good start against possible demand increases for 2021”.


The data has also been well received as there were fears in the early stages of the pandemic (see letsrecycle.com story) that the lockdown could mean 2020 targets were missed.

Martin Trigg-Knight, head of packaging, Clarity Environmental

Despite this, head of packaging at Clarity Environmental, Martin Trigg-Knight, said:  “Considering all the uncertainties around the continued lockdown and the impacts of Brexit on exports, many grades have progressed relatively well in these first two months of the year. The quarterly data has bolstered the monthly figures with strong carry over, and this has put most materials in a confident position for meeting annual targets”.

Touching on the carry over data, he added: “Plastic has carried over an additional 90,000 tonnes, and together with the 141,908 tonnes reported for January and February, this is helping to keep the market stable, which has so far been reflected in prices. Glass re-melt and the consequential total glass targets will need to be watched closely over the coming months, however the expectation is that lockdown easing will have a considerable impact on this grade, once hospitality reopens in England.”


Paul Van Danzig, policy director at Wastepack, said that the data underlined that the current PRN system is working.

Paul Van Danzig of Wastepack

“The data highlights that once again, despite its many understandable critics,  we should all take comfort from the fact that the PRN system is achieving its primary aim. This is to ensure there is sufficient capacity to ensure enough recycling is undertaken to meet the government’s statutory recycling targets.

“What is encouraging that even in an unprecedented event such as a lockdown the PRN system has still delivered. We shouldn’t lose sight of that.”

Mr Van Danzig added: “With the forthcoming changes to the regulations, while PRN reform is long overdue, we must ensure the new system going forward are able to stand the test of time, which the PRN system has done”.


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