Q3 2021 unverified packaging recycling data released

This morning (22 October 2021) saw the first initial release of the Q3 unverified quarterly packaging recycling data, outlining total amounts of packaging volume to have been reprocessed or exported in Q3 2021

The data release is very significant for a couple of reasons. It illustrates packaging recycling levels achieved so far in 2021 up to Q3 and therefore, also highlights how much recycling is still required in the final quarter of the year in order for the UK to hit its government set recycling targets. Furthermore, it starts to help build a picture of how PRN markets may begin 2022, based off how achievable and realistic the remaining requirements are for this present year.

Any strong recycling levels seen in this initial data set will hold the potential to remove pressure and further stabilise current PRN markets, and likewise any weak levels will also hold the power to destabilise markets.

Table 1.1: 2021 unverified packaging recycling levels alongside carry in and current UK obligation

Table 1.2: 2021 unverified packaging recycling levels required to reach final targets based on current UK obligation

Figure 1.1: Q3 2021 unverified packaging recycling levels without carry over PRNs from December 2020 included

Figure 1.2: Q3 2021 unverified packaging recycling levels without carry over PRNs from December 2020 included

Paper, wood & general recycling

Paper appears to have had another strong quarter and is still tracking above its own material specific target at the ¾ stage of the year. Wood has now officially reached its own material target for 2021, even without considering any carry in from December 2020. This means that when the UK is purchasing PRNs to fulfil it’s ‘general recycling’ obligation (which can be filled by any material PRN), it’s very likely that wood will already be being utilised for this purpose, and if strong paper recycling rates continue, this will help to contribute as well.


As with the previous two data releases, glass remains the material that is tightest to its recycling target. Despite Q3 levels remaining very similar to Q2, you can see from table 1.2 that there still remains a high amount of glass packaging recycling required in 2021, if the material is to reach its target. The close proximity to its target at the Q3 stage means that if recycling rates don’t improve, it’s very likely ‘carry in’ tonnages from December 2020 may have to be utilised to reach the target. This is completely acceptable; however, it would mean there would be very little glass PRNs available to roll over into 2022 and would threaten a high-pressure market at the start of next year, with subsequently high prices. The task ahead remains achievable, but PRN markets and prices will now remain under high pressure for both the 2021 and 2022 compliance year.

Aluminium & steel

Both metals performed well in Q3 with similar levels to the strong Q2 we saw which are visible in table 1.1. This means that both materials sit comfortably above their respective recycling targets, even without carry in considered. They aren’t quite as far along as paper and wood, however if the strong recycling rates continue through Q4 2021, then market pressure should continue to dissipate, with a potentially strong outlook for the start of 2022 on the horizon too.


As with glass, plastic has remained close to its ‘par’ recycling target at each quarterly stage, and this remains the case after Q3. As you can see from figure 1.1, without carry in considered it remains at exactly 75% progress towards its final target and this progress is boosted when considering the carry in. This is positive in that it remains on track to hit its target in 2021, however, with it being so close to target, it means the UK will require strong recycling rates throughout the remaining quarter to ensure this is reached, without the use of carry in. This means that pressure will remain in 2021 PRN markets, but also in 2022 markets as fluctuation of recycling rates will more than likely occur in the last three months of the year.

Overall, the initial release of this data is positive, with the majority of materials seemingly on track to reach their targets, and therefore, compliance for 2021. However, pressure remains very high within glass and fairly high within plastic markets, which cannot be ignored and may well have repercussions stretching into 2022.

This data release is still ‘unverified’ which means the figures are subject to change by the Environment Agency, and it also means that there are still several of both large scale and smaller scale reprocessors and exporters still to report their data. Usually, this would mean that recycling levels will typically increase from this point, but as with historic releases, there have been a few changes to this information, both up and down, but we will continue to monitor this closely.

Member PRN update webinar

We plan to look at the data with member much closer to the ‘verified’ stage, as well as the current market and PRN pricing in our upcoming PRN Market Update webinar for packaging members, which we are running on 25th November at 10:00. You can register for your free place HERE

If you have any questions at all, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with your account manager or the packaging team and we’ll be happy to help – packaging@complydirect.com / 01756 794 951