Recycling – secondary material price indicator

Data from January 2017. Most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Main tables and Database.Planned article update: December 2018

This article presents the indicator on volume and price for recyclables in the European Union (EU). The purpose is to provide relevant data and to give a broader overview of the market for secondary materials. 'Secondary materials' are waste materials collected for recycling and recycled materials that can be used in manufacturing processes instead of or alongside virgin raw materials.

The indicator considers the average monthly volume of trade in secondary materials (thousand tonnes or million tonnes) and average monthly prices for secondary materials (€/tonne). It is based on foreign trade statistics and monitors both the intra-EU and extra-EU cross-country trade (between Member States and with countries outside of the EU, respectively). The indicator is presented in a way similar to other market-price related indicators, such as energy import prices.

Figure 1 Price indicator and trade volume for glass waste in EU-28 until September 2016 - Source: Eurostat COMEXT
Figure 2 Price indicator and trade volume for paper and board waste in EU-28 until September 2016 - Source: Eurostat COMEXT
Figure 3 Price indicator and trade volume for plastic waste in EU-28 until September 2016 - Source: Eurostat COMEXT

In contrast to the established steel and aluminium scrap market, monitoring of other materials used for consumer-related packaging (such as glass, paper and board, plastic) is less developed. Therefore, this analysis focuses on these materials. The indicators are likely to be of interest to stakeholders concerned with long-term performance of secondary-material markets. Both elements, trade volumes and prices, are shown within the same graphs to highlight current trends and volatility.

Main statistical findings

The data for glass, paper and board, as well as plastic, show that the prices of recyclates have varied significantly over time. The most notable change over the last decade was a sharp reduction in secondary material prices for paper and board, as well as for plastic, during the financial crisis of 2008/2009. However, average annual figures for intra EU-28 trade suggest that the markets for most secondary materials were not substantially affected.

The data also show that, for materials which are often exported out of the EU for recycling, the price recovered after the sharp reduction seen throughout 2008. Extra EU-28 trade volumes in plastic, for example, dropped significantly for a few months in 2008/2009, but bounced back to levels higher than before 2008, despite the lower price.

The following sub-sections present the price and trade volumes for glass, paper and board and plastic. The data and figures will be updated regularly on the Environmental Data Centre waste website.


For both series in Figure 1 (price and volume), annual averages of monthly prices and volumes are shown from 2002 to 2016 (the solid lines which remain constant over each year). From 2009 the data is also displayed on a monthly basis (transparent line) to highlight fluctuations in the data.

EU-28 trade in glass waste (blue line – annual average of monthly prices and volumes) shows an increase from approximately 250 000 tonnes/month in the year 2002 to nearly 350 000 tonnes/month in 2007 and further to approximately 410 000 tonnes/month from 2013 onwards. The monthly trade data (transparent line) demonstrates the high fluctuation. The highest trading volume is observed in April 2016 with nearly 640 000 tonnes and dropped down again to less than 400 000 tonnes in July and August 2016 . The detailed data (not displayed in Figure 1) show that the extra EU-28 export of 63 000 tonnes in 2015 accounts for less than 1 % of glass waste separately collected in EU-28 according to the Waste Statistics Regulation data (approx. 9 million tonnes in EU-28 for 2014). The cross border trade volume is dominated by intra EU-28 trade. Extra EU-28 export trade is minor for glass (4% of exported volume).

The price development of glass waste is shown in the turquoise line yearly (as an average of the monthly volumes) and monthly (in the turquoise transparent line). From 2002 to 2004 the average price was quite stable at around 37 €/tonne. From 2004 onwards the price increased to 45-53 €/tonne. From 2014 onwards there is a trend to an increased price level of 49-53 €/tonne. The highest monthly price was observed in February 2015 at approximately 58 €/tonne.

Paper and board

For both series in Figure 2 (price and volume), annual averages of monthly prices and volumes are given from 2002 to 2016. From 2009 the data is also displayed on a monthly basis to highlight fluctuations in the data (transparent lines).

The traded volume (blue line) has increased constantly from 2002 to 2011 with the highest recorded traded volume in January 2012 with 3.6 million tonnes. The monthly volume (transparent blue line) shows the fluctuation around the 12 months average.

The price data (turquoise line) does not follow the same trend as for traded volume. From 2002 to 2005 the price decreased to 94 €/tonne. It then increased in 2007 up to around 120 €/tonne. From October 2008 the price declined from approximately 122 €/tonne to 74 €/tonne in February 2009. Since then, the price has increased dramatically (doubling in just over a year) and has reached over 160 €/tonne in 2011. Since 2012 the price declines but remains on a high level (130 to 135 €/tonne). Most recent data for 2016 display a higher level between 134 and 152 €/tonne.


For both series in Figure 3 (price and volume), annual averages of monthly prices and volumes are given from 2002 to 2016. From 2009 the data is also displayed on a monthly basis to highlight fluctuations in the data (transparent lines).

The traded volume (blue line) tripled over the reported period from the year 2002 to 2012 from approximately 180 000 tonnes/month to around 650 000 tonnes/month. 2013 was the first year since 2002 in which the annual trade volume did not grow and the trade volume 2013 was lower than the year before. Within a year the volatility is also significant. For 2015 the monthly average for the whole year is approximately 680 000 tonnes. We observe a spike in June 2015 of approximately 770 000 tonnes and the lowest volume with 542 000 tonnes in January 2015.

The price of plastic waste depends on one hand on the supply and demand of plastic waste material, and on the other hand on the crude oil price, which strongly influences the price of the virgin (primary) material. The indicator (turquoise line) shows a decrease in the price of plastic waste between 2002/2003. Since 2003 the price has increased to levels above 350 €/tonne. In 2009 the indicator shows a sharp decline down to 234 €/tonne in March 2009. Afterwards the price recovered with the exception of March 2010 when the lowest price in the decade with 220 €/tonne is shown (monthly data in transparent turquoise line). By 2013 the price recovered to the price level of 2007 with around 370 €/tonne, since then the price is again continuously decreasing to a level of 301 €/tonne in September 2016.

Development of prices for low and high quality secondary materials - example paper

Figure 4 Price development for low and high quality paper waste in EU-28 until September 2016 - Source: Eurostat COMEXT

For paper and plastic more than one foreign trade statistics code is used for the calculation of the price indicator. The different codes describe secondary materials, which may include industrial residues of high quality or separately collected waste. Figure 4 illustrates the difference in price and the corresponding development over time. As an example the trade positions of paper waste with the highest (code 47072000) and lowest (code 47079010) price were chosen.

The difference in price between the lowest and highest quality remains fairly constant. In other words, both prices appear to develop in parallel. The observation of trade volumes gives a similar picture. Therefore, it is reasonable to calculate only one price indicator for paper.

Price indicator and trade flows

Trends in material prices and trade flows can give some additional information about the recycling economy.

Glass is a heavy and low-cost material. Hence the trade volume is low in comparison to the overall recycling volume. In addition, most trade takes place between neighbouring countries, and thus extra-EU-28 export volumes are also low.

For paper and plastic, the data show a more complex picture.


Figure 5 Trade volume of paper waste in EU-28 according to trade flows - Source: Eurostat COMEXT
Figure 6 Price Indicator of paper waste in EU-28 according to trade flows - Source: Eurostat COMEXT

Figure 5 shows the trade volume of paper waste in EU-28 according to trade flows. For paper the intra-EU-28 trade volume increased from 8 million tonnes in 2002 up to 13 million tonnes in 2010 and 2011. In 2013 the intra EU-28 trade volume decreased to 12 million tonnes and remained at this level until 2015. Overall, an increase of nearly 50 % can be observed during the period from 2002 to 2013.

The extra EU-28 imports are small and stable, but the extra EU-28 exports exhibit strong growth – from 4 million tonnes/year in 2002 to more than 13 million tonnes/year in 2009. In the subsequent year the extra-EU exports dropped to a level between 10 and 11 million tonnes / year in 2010 to 2015. When compared with the amount of paper separately collected in the EU-28 (Waste Statistics Regulation 2010: 46 million tonnes in 2014), the indicator shows that extra EU-28 exports account for more than 20 % of this volume.

The price indicator on paper waste in EU-28 according to trade flows is shown in Figure 6. Until 2005, the extra EU-28 imports show significantly higher prices than the average. This might be due to a higher quality which is needed inside the EU-28. Since then, the prices of all three categories show similar characteristics. Due to the inclusion of transport costs, import prices tend to be higher than export prices. Taking this effect into account, the price, and therefore the quality, appears to be of a similar level. Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that the qualities of imported and exported secondary paper material are quite similar.


Figure 7 Trade volume of plastic waste in EU-28 according to trade flows - Source: Eurostat COMEXT
Figure 8 Price Indicator of plastic waste in EU-28 according to trade flows - Source: Eurostat COMEXT

The characteristic of the trade flows for plastic is shown in Figure 7. The trend looks similar to that for paper. The main difference is that at the starting point (2002) the extra EU-28 export showed the same volume as the intra EU-28 trade.

The extra EU-28 imports amounted to approximately 97 000 tonnes in the year 2002 and rose to a maximum of 437 000 tonnes in 2010 and is stable for the period 2011 to 2015 between 385 000 to 415 000 tonnes per year. The intra EU-28 trade started at approximately 710 000 tonnes in 2002 and increased to approximately 2.3 million tonnes in 2015. The extra EU-28 exports rose from 737 000 tonnes in 2002 to approximately 3.4 million tonnes in 2010, an increase of approximately 450 %. The separately collected plastic waste accounted for 11.6 million tonnes in 2004 and 17 million tonnes in 2014 (WStatR). So a substantial part of the increased collected plastic waste was exported.

The development of the specific price according to trade flows of plastic waste in the EU-28 is shown in Figure 8. The characteristic is different to the example of paper. In 2002 the prices were quite similar but diverged from 2003 onwards. The higher price seen in the intra EU-28 suggests that the quality of this material was higher than that imported to, or exported from, the EU. In contrast, the extra EU-28 imports reflect the lower-price and quality of the material. The specific price of the extra EU-28 exports ranged between the extra EU-28 import price and the intra EU-28 price.


The trade figures allow some valuable insights for the implementation of the European thematic strategies on resources and on waste prevention and recycling. Assessing the foreign trade data with the same methodology by country of origin and destination will provide an even more detailed insight.

The European market has a big trade surplus and the intra EU-28 trade is developing well. The market of secondary materials is strongly backed by extra EU-28 exports (i.e. exports out of the EU). The exports show a remarkable increase over the last decade. During 2011 this increase came to a halt and a more stable export accounting for approximately 20 % of the treatment of secondary raw materials from plastic waste and paper waste collected within the EU.

Data sources and availability

Foreign trade statistics constitute the only data source for the presented indicators. The following paragraphs detail the codes in foreign trade statistics considered for the indicators.

Glass waste

Table 1 Codes in Foreign Trade Statistics for glass waste

Glass waste is reported in foreign trade statistics under one code (see Table 1). Please take note that the code ’glass cullets’ also contains some industrial material.

Paper waste

Table 2 Codes in Foreign Trade Statistics for paper waste

Paper waste is reported in foreign trade statistics under six codes (see Table 2). It reports three fractions of mostly industrial waste (4707-1, 4707-2, 4707-3090) and three fractions covering waste paper collected and sorted. As all fractions are covered by the Waste Statistics Regulation we take all six codes into account for the indicator.

Plastic waste

Table 3 Changes in nomenclature for plastic waste
Table 4 Codes in Foreign Trade Statistics for plastic waste

Plastic waste is reported in foreign trade statistics under nine items from 2000-2003, under six positions from 2004-2009 and five positions from 2010 onwards (see Table 3 and 4). In 2004 the nomenclature changed and some codes were combined. In 2010 two codes were merged to one new code. Table 3 shows the years in which data is reported under which code. Number 5 and 7 in the table are combined to the new position #6. Additionally the positions 10, 11, 12 are combined to the new position 9. In 2010 the codes #6 and 9 are merged to #8.


The price indicator sums up all value (in €) and volume (in tonnes) of all relevant foreign trade statistics (FTS) codes. Value over volume then gives the specific price indicator (in €/tonne)

Formula price indicator.PNG

Value and volume is extracted from foreign trade statistics as intra EU-28 and extra EU-28 trade for both, import and export. The price indicator is shown as monthly data or yearly average data.

The total volume of the traded waste materials (import plus export) is shown as an additional indicator. This indicator (tonnes/month) shows the market activity and covers intra- and extra trade in EU-28. This indicator is shown as monthly data (tonnes/month) for a month or the yearly average (12 times tonnes/month).

Foreign trade statistics are published monthly, with a delay of approximately 3.5 months. The year 2002 was chosen as the starting point because reliable data for EU-28 is available from 2002 onwards.

See also

Further Eurostat information


All publications on waste issued by Eurostat.

Main tables


Waste streams (env_wasst)

Dedicated section

Other information

Source data for tables, figures and maps on this page (MS Excel)

External links