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2020 Packaging compliance year review

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2020 target achievement

The UK has achieved its 2020 obligation for every packaging material, with overall recycling and recovery met by in-year recycling. Furthermore, once carry-in PRNs from 2019 and 2020 are considered, over 120% of the 2020 obligation was achieved for each paper, aluminium, steel and wood.

With the above 2019 carry-in PRNs accepted against the 2020 compliance year obligation, 2020 in-year recycling volumes have enabled significant quantities of PRNs (equivalent to approximately 7% of the UK 2020 obligation) to be carried forward into 2021. PRNs carried forward from 2020 to 2021, which are higher for every packaging material than those carried forward from 2019 to 2020, are likely to make a valuable contribution to achievement of the higher recycling targets in the 2021 compliance year.

Review of 2020 reprocessing

Where was the packaging waste reprocessed?

Whilst the UK continues to rely heavily on export markets, the proportion of steel, plastic and paper reprocessed in the UK was higher in 2020 than in 2019 as shown in the graph below. Conversely, the proportion of aluminium reprocessed in the UK has reduced in recent years through a combination of UK reprocessing plant closure and also a change in the protocols for the aluminium content of Incinerator Bottom Ash (IBA), which is predominantly exported.

UK plastic reprocessing continues to develop and is expected to be stimulated further in 2021 and beyond as a consequence of the plastic packaging tax increasing the demand for plastic packaging containing at least 30% recycled content. Almost simultaneously, changes to the Basel Convention affecting the type of plastic waste that can be exported and the controls under which any exports must occur have added cost, complexity and limitations to plastic packaging exports. This is expected to further reduce the quantity of UK plastic packaging supplied to export markets in 2021.

Glass and wood are predominantly reprocessed in the UK, so are excluded from the graph above.

How was PRN revenue used to support reprocessing?

Accredited reprocessors and exporters are required to report annually how the monies that they have received from PRNs have been used to support recycling. Data published by the Environment Agency on 31st March 2021 shows that £230.105m PRN revenue was received by these organisations in the 2020 compliance year, some £136.848m less than the £366.952m received in the 2019 compliance year.

As would be expected, the investment of PRN income differs between different packaging materials and also their end-market. Recovery (energy from waste) retained the highest proportion of PRN revenue for future investment at 45% of the total, whilst the highest proportion of funds used to increase collection was glass at 52%. The table below shows separately by end-market, how 2020 funds are invested. Unsurprisingly the vast proportion of exporter PRN revenue was used to either fund collections or provide price support / new market development, whilst, encouragingly, the largest proportion of investment of UK reprocessor revenue was for infrastructure and capacity.

The PRN system is expected to come to an end in 2023, when producers will collectively incur £2.5bn in estimated recycling costs (exclusive of litter, regulator, administrator and communication costs). This is substantially higher than the costs incurred in 2020.

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