Environment Agency release the unverified recycling data for Q3 2020

Today (22 October), the unverified Q3 recycling data for 2020 has been released by the Environment Agency which holds key information in tracking the UK’s progress against its 2020 recycling targets

2020 so far has been a pleasantly surprising year in terms of recycling levels, as both Q1 and Q2 data releases by the Environment Agency showed strong levels across almost all materials. The Q3 data released today has been hotly anticipated by all stakeholders, in order to determine whether these positive recycling rates had continued, despite us wading further into unknown Coronavirus territory and aspects such as local lockdowns etc.

Positive rates shown in this data would be very promising in terms of the UK once again hitting all of its recycling targets for 2020 and would also leave the UK in a favourable position in terms of rolling over PRNs into next year, to provide a strong start yet again. This will be highly sought after with more unknowns on the horizon for next year such as Brexit, and deeper, longer term effects of coronavirus on the UK.

Q3 Recycling Data

Figure 1.1: Q3 2020 packaging recycling levels without carry over PRNs from December 2019 included

Figure 1.2: Q3 2020 packaging recycling levels with carry over PRNs from December 2019 included


Paper has had its strongest quarter of the year and without carry in from December 2019 taken into account, it stands at 86% of its overall annual target, and with carry in at 95%. In previous years, we’ve already reached the target by now, which highlights the slower progress of paper this year. With this being the case, it means that in 2020, general recycling is much more likely to be filled with more materials than just paper and wood as it has been historically.


Both glass other and glass remelt had a reasonably strong quarter in Q3, and fits in around average within the context of 2020. Glass is still the material tightest to target at 79% of its overall target, but not quite as tight as it has been at points previously this year, which is encouraging. It appears the UK will likely be ok in terms of hitting its glass target this year, but it’s unlikely many glass PRNs will be used to offset general recycling.


Aluminium had its weakest quarter of the year but only by a couple of thousand tonnes. Recent low PRN prices for the material haven’t quite been supporting the recycling and exporting as it had been in early 2020. However, this must be viewed within the bigger picture and despite this being its smallest quarter, levels are still much increased on last year and overall levels for 2020 to date mean that with carry in included, we are only 2% off completing this year with a whole quarter remaining. It seems very likely that aluminium PRNs will be helping to contribute to general recycling obligations this year.


Steel did suffer slightly during the early stages of lockdown after Q1 this year. However, since this time, recycling levels have been improving and Q3 is no exception. Without carry in included, steel has reached 87% of the annual target, which is a strong position. If the rates were to continue into Q4 then steel PRNs might reach enough of a surplus to contribute to general recycling as well.


The Q3 data reveals plastic has reached 84% of its annual target without carry in included, and 89% with carry in. This is really positive and keeps up the strong recycling levels we have seen throughout 2020, however, we must remain cautious when viewing this notoriously fickle PRN.

We haven’t hit target yet and with the latest release of monthly data for September, we saw recycling rates for plastic drop quite significantly. This may have happened for a host of reasons, however, if we see another low level upon October’s data release, this may make the journey towards 100% of target a touch bumpier than expected. This being said, the progress has been so strong this year (which is now confirmed by the Q3 data), that even significantly reduced recycling levels for the remainder of the year would still likely carry the UK to completion of the plastic target.


Wood has experienced its best quarter of recycling in 2020 for Q3, and like steel, has continued a strong revival since early disruptions in the year. Without carry in, the UK is at 87% of the wood recycling target, and with carry in we stand at 94%. It seems likely that wood will be the biggest contributor to general recycling and form a solid foundation with remaining requirements to be contributed by paper, aluminium, steel and likely some plastic too.

Energy from Waste (EfW) or Recovery

This remains fairly tight to target, however, the ability to increase this number of PRNs is much easier than other materials and it’s not expected there will be a shortfall in recovery PRNs for 2020.


At this stage, the data is still unverified which means the numbers do have potential to change before the verified release on 11 November. We can see that from the initial release, there are still a number of reprocessors and exporters yet to report on their figures, meaning that it is likely these overall recycling levels for Q3 may grow further still.

Overall, the data release has once again proven the recycling sector’s overall resilience in the face of ongoing difficulties in wider life, which is very positive. We still have 3 months to navigate and more packaging to recycle in order to hit all of the targets once again, however, this data release seems to indicate it may well be a case of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’.

As always, we’ll remain on top of all the data available and all the markets on your behalf. After the verified version of the data is released, we’ll be running another update webinar for our members, to discuss everything in greater detail. We’ll also take a look at final pricing for 2020, have a look at early estimates for 2021 and help with budgeting aspects for the upcoming year too.

The next member PRN update webinar will be on Tuesday 17 November 10:00am and you can register your free place HERE.

If you have any questions at all, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with your account manager directly or on packaging@complydirect.com