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Packaging Market Review: Q4 2021

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2021 target achievement

Data published by the Environment Agency on 31st March 2022 demonstrated that whilst sufficient PRNs were issued to meet the UK 2021 recycling obligation for each packaging material and for overall recycling, the in-year recycling during 2021 was less than that required to achieve the UK plastic and glass remelt obligations.

The glass remelt and plastic recycling obligation was achieved only through use of December 2020 PRNs that were carried forward into 2021. This is demonstrated in the table below:

2021 in-year recycling achieved 97.3% of the UK plastic recycling obligation and 98.4% of the overall glass recycling obligation, with the high glass re-melt PRN prices towards the end of 2021 perhaps preventing the shortfall in glass being higher than it otherwise could have been. Whilst UK reprocessing of plastic packaging reached record levels and with further capacity increases expected in 2022, these did not fully compensate for the reduction in exports, particularly plastic film of which there was approximately 69kt less reprocessed and exported in 2021 than in 2020.

2022 outlook

With changes to global conditions including soaring energy prices affecting consumer spending, which impacts the availability and demand for recyclate and the cost of reprocessing, UK recycling performance in 2022 is perhaps harder to gauge than in other compliance years.

What we do know is that the recycling targets have increased for overall recycling and every packaging material except wood and that there are less PRNs carried forward into the 2022 compliance year than there were into the 2021 compliance year. The latter is shown in the final two columns of the table above, with the reduction in the quantity of plastic and glass carried forward into 2022 being very broadly aligned to the shortfall in 2021 in-year recycling.

The 2022 monthly voluntary recycling data reported to 10th March 2022 show that reprocessing is lower than the voluntary data reported in the same period in 2021, except perhaps encouragingly, for glass, which has increased. Steel and paper volumes are particularly low in comparison with 2021, which we understand is related to supply to end-markets, rather than any material reduction in collections at this stage.

Beyond 2022

Government has advised that 2022 targets will be rolled forward into the 2023 compliance year. They have published their response to their 2021 EPR for packaging consultation and have confirmed that the PRN system will remain in place for at least the short term. We will be providing further details of this in our next packaging blog which will be published shortly.


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