Q3 2023 Unverified Packaging Data Release

This week (On 23rd October 2023), the Environment Agency published the unverified Q3 packaging recycling data. This data provides insight into the total volume of packaging that was either reprocessed or exported during Q3 2023.

The release of quarterly data holds significant importance for many reasons. Not only does it showcase the packaging recycling achievements up to Q3, but it also highlights the amount of recycling yet to be achieved in this year's final quarter to meet the UK's government-mandated recycling targets. This data can offer insights into future trends in the PRN market, hinging on the feasibility and practicality of meeting each material's remaining recycling targets.

Strong recycling figures in the recent data release could alleviate pressures and further stabilise the current PRN markets. Equally, underwhelming figures possess the potential to unsettle these markets.

Table 1 - 2023 packaging recycling levels alongside confirmed carry in and current UK obligation

Figure 1.1 – Q3 2023 unverified packaging recycling levels against current obligation, without carry over PRNs from December 2022 included.

Figure 1.2 – Q3 2023 unverified packaging recycling levels against current obligation, with carry over PRNs from December 2022 included.

Paper, wood & general recycling

Although paper experienced a slight dip in performance this quarter, it remains firmly on course to meet its specific material target for the year. In contrast to the previous year, 2023 has seen a steady resurgence with strong figures reported in both Q1 and Q2. This upward trend has been driven by high initial prices and dynamic factors, such as decreased UK obligation, combined with increased demand for recycled paper pulp in both UK and overseas markets.

Wood has now officially reached its own material target for 2023, even without considering any ‘carry in’ from December 2022. This means that when the UK is purchasing PRNs to fulfil its ‘general recycling’ obligation (which can be filled by any material PRN), it is very likely that both paper and wood will be utilised for this purpose. 


As with the two previous data releases, glass remains one of the materials tightest to its recycling target. While Q3 showed the highest glass re-melt recycling levels of the year, the glass other category is lagging behind in recycling levels and falls short of its individual recycling target at the Q3 stage. Consequently, despite the recent improvements in glass remelt, market pressure may persist, due to this shortfall. It is possible that we may reach a point where either category is purchased with the aim of meeting the UK's overall glass target. Achieving the final glass target without relying on the limited 'carry-in' from 2022 still appears feasible if we can sustain these positive recycling rates.


Aluminium has maintained its strong performance in Q3, showing a slight improvement over Q2 (as detailed in table 1.1). As a result, aluminium is currently exceeding its projected recycling performance for this point in the year. This quarter's continued positive performance is promising and we're starting to see a reduction in market pressure, even with recent high PRN prices. However, it is important to maintain consistent Q4 recycling rates despite this encouraging data, as there isn't a significant carry-in to rely on, especially for aluminium.


Steel had a relatively average quarter, with its weakest performance of the year recorded during this period. Nevertheless, even with this dip in performance, steel remains in a favourable position at this stage of the year. Despite the expected increase in the UK obligation, the steady supply of steel puts it on track to achieve compliance and conclude the year on a positive note.


Plastic has sustained its healthy performance in Q3, demonstrating an improvement over Q1 and Q2 (as outlined in table 1.1). Consequently, plastic is currently surpassing its anticipated recycling performance for this stage in the year. The ongoing positive performance for another quarter is encouraging and we are starting to witness a decrease in market pressure, in spite of the recent high PRN prices. However, as with Aluminium, it's important to stress that despite this promising data, it will be crucial to maintain consistent Q4 recycling rates, given the limited carry-in and volatility of this material.


Overall, the initial release of this data reinforces the continued improvements we seen from the first two quarters and showcases a more positive outlook on the UK being able to reach compliance come the end of the year.

This data release is still ‘unverified’ which means the figures are subject to change by the Environment Agency. There are also still several 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, however with past releases there have been fluctuations with this information and therefore we will monitor this situation closely.

FREE Webinar: PRN Market Update (Members Only) – Wednesday 15th November 10- 10:45am.

In this upcoming webinar for packaging members, we plan to look at the data much closer to the ‘verified’ stage as well as discussing the current market and PRN pricing.

We highly recommend that packaging members register and attend this webinar as it will be extremely useful in outlining your remaining costs for 2023, whilst also helping you to prepare and start to budget for 2024. If you cannot attend on this day, you can still register as you will receive the slides and recording the day after the webinar to view in your own time.

Register your free place HERE.

If you have any questions at all, please do not hesitate to get in touch with your account manager or the packaging team at / 01756 794 951.