The Environment Agency release final set of packaging recycling information for 2021

On Thursday 31 March 2022, the Environment Agency released the final set of packaging recycling information for 2021 in the form of the Q4 verified data. The data outlines the total amount of packaging recycled in 2021, as well as detailing the amount of ‘carry in’ or surplus PRN’s from December 2021

The Q4 data release is one of the most significant in the compliance year, as this will combine with the preceding quarters verified data to illustrate how the UK has performed against its annual, government set recycling targets, and ultimately determine if these have been reached or not.

As well as outlining performance in the previous compliance year (2021), it also details the amount of ‘carry in’ for the current compliance year (2022). Any PRN’s generated in the month of December can be ‘carried in’ to the next compliance year, if they have not been required to reach target in the year they were generated.

Table 1.1: 2021 verified packaging recycling levels alongside carry in from December 2020, and final UK obligation.

Figure 1.1: Q4 2021 verified packaging recycling levels without carry over PRNs from December 2020 included

Figure 1.2: Q4 2021 verified packaging recycling levels with carry over PRNs from December 2020 included

Table 2: Carry in levels for 2020, 2021 and 2022

Paper, Wood & General Recycling – Both paper and wood performed well throughout 2021, with both materials easily reaching their targets for 2021. Wood had almost reached this marker at the half-way point, meaning lots of this surplus tonnage will also have been used to reach the UK’s ‘General Recycling’ target in 2021. As this can be reached using PRN’s generated from any material, it’s likely paper PRN’s may have also been used.

As you can see from table 2, the good progress also means that there was a sizeable amount of ‘carry in’ across both materials, which can now be used against 2022 targets if required. A reduced amount of wood packaging recycling in Q4 though, as seen in table 1, alongside a slight reduction in carry in versus 2021 for paper and wood, means it’ll be important to see good performance in the upcoming Q1 2022 data (April 22nd) if PRN market pressure, and therefore prices are to remain low.

Glass – After Q3’s data release it was evident supply issues within Glass recycling, alongside inflated demand driven by covid, were causing high pressure in the PRN market, and it also raised the question of whether the Glass recycling target would be hit in 2021. As you can see from table 1, the UK obligation was reached, however some carry in from the previous year (December 2020) was required to be used in order to do so. Table 2 highlights how a strong Q4 performance, driven by higher prices in the PRN market meant that some Glass PRN’s are also actually now available to be carried into 2022, even though this is much reduced versus 2021.

This could provide an all important ‘back stop’ which may need to be called on again in 2022 depending on recycling performances for Glass over the coming year. Supply issues do appear to have improved but pressure remains in the market and we won’t gain a glimpse into quantifying this progress until we see the upcoming Q1 unverified data on April 22nd.

Plastic – Intervention by the regulator in Q3 and Q4 meant that Plastic progress towards its final target in 2021 was disrupted at the end of the year. This in turn caused volatility in the market and a need for improved recycling levels, to replace generation which had been removed by the Environment Agency. As with Glass, you can see from figure 1.1 how without any carry in being used, Plastic would have fallen short against its target.

This in turn has affected availability how carry in to be pushed into this year and table 2 shows how the UK now has a significantly reduced carry in, which has caused some pressure in early PRN markets. As ever, Plastic remains a key material to monitor and review on release of the upcoming 2022 data.

Aluminium & Steel – Metal packaging recycling performed well throughout 2022 and despite a reduced Q4 level for both materials, UK obligation was reached without having to rely on carry in such as with Glass and Plastic. This end of year reduction means its important to review progress in Q1 2022 when available, but overall, positive carry in levels will be taken into this coming year providing a stable start to progress towards new increased recycling targets.


All materials once again hit their respective recycling targets in 2021 meaning the UK is once again complaint. Another big challenge lies ahead for 2022 with increased targets to reach across all materials (with the exception of wood which has retained its target), and we’ll ensure we continue to keep all members up to date with ongoing recycling progress in 2022.

If you have any specific questions regarding this data, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with your account manager or the packaging team and we’ll be happy to help 01756 794951 /