Recycling – secondary material price indicator
Data from November 2021
Planned article update: November 2022
In 2020, average prices of secondary materials were: 55 EUR/tonne for glass, 104 EUR/tonne for paper and cardboard and 245 EUR/tonne for plastic, compared with 2019 they dropped 14% on average.
In 2020, the weight of secondary waste materials traded increased by 4% for glass, by 12% for paper, and decreased by less than 3% for plastic.
Average price indicator for glass, paper and cardboard and plastic, EU-27 (2012-2020) EUR/tonne
This article presents indicators on the volumes and prices of 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 that are recycled and can be used in manufacturing processes, instead or alongside ‘virgin’ raw materials.
The indicators consider the average monthly volume of trade in secondary materials (thousand tonnes or million tonnes) and their average monthly prices (EUR/tonne). The analysis is based on international trade in goods statistics and monitors exports between EU Member States and countries outside the EU (extra-EU) and imports from EU Member States, and third countries (intra-EU, extra-EU). The intra-EU exports are not calculated in order to avoid double counting the volumes from intra-EU trade. The price indicator is presented in a way similar to other market-price related indicators, such as energy import prices.
In contrast to the established markets for steel and aluminium scrap, markets of waste from materials originally used for consumer-related packaging (such as glass, paper and cardboard, and plastic) are less observed. Therefore, this analysis focuses on these materials. The indicators are relevant to stakeholders concerned with long-term performance of secondary-material markets, as well as to policymakers developing recycling strategies in the Circular Economy. Both elements, trade volumes and prices, are shown within the same graphs in order to highlight current trends and volatility.
The data for glass, paper and cardboard, and plastic show that the prices of recyclables have varied significantly over time. Over the last decades, the most notable change was a sharp reduction in secondary material prices for paper and cardboard, and plastic during the financial crisis of 2008-2009. However, average annual figures for trade within the European Union (EU) 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 drop seen throughout 2008. Extra-EU trade volumes in plastic, for example, dropped significantly for a few months in 2008-2009, but bounced back to levels higher than before 2008. The data also suggest that, since the beginning of 2018, the countries receiving waste materials for recycling from the EU changed significantly.
The pandemic situation in 2020 has not affected the trade in secondary materials. Volumes in glass as well as paper and cardboard increased slightly from 2019 ‒ reaching the numbers of 2018. Plastic had an 18% decrease from 2019, but all the indicators remained stable.
The United Kingdom is considered as an external partner country for the EU for the whole period covered by this article. However, the United Kingdom was still part of the internal market until the end of the transition period (31 December 2020), meaning that data on trade with the United Kingdom were still based on statistical concepts applicable to trade between the EU Member States. Consequently, while imports from any other extra-EU trade partner are grouped by country of origin, the United Kingdom data reflect the country of consignment. In practice, this means that the goods imported by the EU from the United Kingdom were physically transported from the United Kingdom but part of these goods could have been of other origin than the United Kingdom. For this reason, data on trade with the United Kingdom are not fully comparable with data on trade with other extra-EU trade partners.
The following sub-sections present the price and trade volumes for glass, paper and cardboard, and plastic. The data and figures are updated regularly on the Eurostat dedicated website on waste statistics.
Average prices and trade volumes
Annual averages of monthly prices and volumes for secondary glass materials from 2004 to 2020 are presented in Figure 1. From 2013 to December 2020, monthly data are also displayed, highlighting the fluctuations in the price and volume data respectively.
EU trade in secondary glass materials (pink line – annual average of monthly volumes) shows an increase from an average of around 147 000 tonnes/month in 2004 to 248 290 tonnes/month in 2019 and 258 558 tonnes/month in 2020. The monthly trade data (lighter pink line) demonstrates the high fluctuation. The highest trading volume was observed in December 2020 with 312 866 tonnes, with another peak in October 2015 at 298 326 tonnes. Detailed data (not displayed in Figure 1) show that the cross-border trade volume is dominated by intra-EU trade of glass material for recycling. Extra-EU export trade is minor for glass (4% of exported volume).
The darker green line shows the development of the annual average prices (an average of the monthly prices), while the lighter green line shows the monthly prices. In the period from January 2015 to January 2020, peaks were reached in May 2018 (67 EUR/tonne) and September 2018 (66 EUR/tonne). After that, monthly prices stabilised at 50-64 EUR/tonne for the rest of 2019 (the annual average for 2019 was approximately 57 EUR/tonne). In 2020, monthly prices were over 50 EUR, rose to 59 EUR/tonne in January 2020 before falling to 52 EUR/tonne in August and September 2020.
Paper and cardboard
For both series (price and volume), annual averages of monthly prices and volumes for secondary paper and cardboard materials are shown from 2002 to 2020 (Figure 3). From 2013 to December 2020, the data are also displayed on a monthly basis to highlight fluctuations (lighter coloured lines).
The traded volume (darker pink line) increased steadily from 2004 to 2011. The highest average traded volume was recorded in 2020 with 2.0 million tonnes/month, surpassing the previous record years of 2009, 2011 and 2019 with an average of 1.9 million tonnes/month. The annual average of monthly trade has fluctuated between 1.6 and 1.8 million tonnes/month in the other years. The monthly volume (lighter pink line) shows the fluctuations around the 12 months averages, with the monthly volume raising to a high of 2.3 million tonnes in October 2018 and 2.1 million tonnes in October 2020.
The price data (green lines) do not follow the same trend as the data on traded volume. During the economic crisis the average price dropped from 121 EUR/tonne in 2008 to around 88 EUR/tonne in 2009. The price rebounded sharply through 2010 and 2011, peaking at 165 EUR/tonne in 2011, before trailing off in the following years. In 2017, the average price over the year climbed to a high of 159 EUR/tonne, but fell sharply to 137 EUR/tonne in 2018, 118 EUR/tonne in 2019 and took another decrease in 2020 to 104 EUR/tonne. Over the most recent period, there was a sharp decline in the monthly prices from around 146 EUR/tonne in October 2018, falling month-by-month to around 83 EUR/tonne in March 2020. A rebound was observed in the next months, reaching 113 EUR/tonne in October 2020 and 124 in December 2020.
For both price and volume of waste plastic, annual averages of monthly prices and volumes are given from 2004 to 2020 (Figure 5). From 2015 to June 2020, data are also displayed on a monthly basis, highlighting fluctuations over the year (lighter lines).
The traded volume for secondary plastic materials (pink line) grew continuously from 2004 to 2016, with the only exception of a slight decrease to 410 000 tonnes/month in 2013. The peak volume was recorded in 2016 with an average of 477 000 tonnes/month. The traded volume tailed off in subsequent years, falling to 389 000 tonnes/month in 2018, 393 000 tonnes/month in 2019 and 383 000 tonnes/month in 2020. Within a year, the volatility in the volumes traded is also significant. In 2019, spikes were observed in May (448 000 tonnes) and October (441 000 tonnes). However, this was well short of the 526 000 tonnes seen in April 2016. The lowest monthly volume in 2019 was recorded at the end of the year, in December, with 353 000 tonnes. After a rebound to 381 000 tonnes in February 2020, a sharp fall was observed in the next three months. The lowest monthly volumes were reached in May 2020, with 329 000 tonnes.
In June 2020, a rebound was observed to 381 000 tonnes, reaching 421 000 in July. The price of secondary plastic materials depends, on the one hand, on the supply and demand of secondary plastic material, and, on the other hand, on the crude oil price, which strongly influences the price of the virgin (primary) material. The indicator (green line) shows an increase in the price of secondary plastic materials between 2004 and 2007 to levels of around 344 EUR/tonne. By 2013, the price had recovered to exceed the price level of 2007, with around 351 EUR/tonne. Since then, the price fell to 298 EUR/tonne on average in 2016 and have increased in the next two years, reaching 301 EUR/tonne in 2017 - for the next three years the price fell under 300 EUR. A new fall to 291 EUR/tonne was observed in 2019. Monthly prices continued to fluctuate over the year. In January 2020 the price stood at 285 EUR/tonne and since March 2020, the monthly price decreased steadily to reach 227 EUR/tonne in June 2020. The yearly price in 2020 was around 245 EUR.
Development of prices for low and high quality secondary materials — paper and cardboard
For paper and cardboard, more than one product 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 7 illustrates the difference in price and the corresponding development over time. As an example, the trade positions of paper and cardboard waste with the highest (code 47072000) and lowest (code 47079010) price were chosen.
Since June 2019, prices for low and high quality secondary paper and cardboard materials regularly fell each month, with few exceptions, to reach a low point in February 2020 for high quality, with 188 EUR/tonne, and in March 2020 for low quality material, with 56 EUR/tonne.
The difference in price between the lowest and highest quality of waste paper and cardboard has remained constant, with the prices for the two qualities developing roughly in parallel. The observation of trade volumes provides a similar picture. Therefore, it is reasonable to calculate only one price indicator for paper.
Average 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. A consequence is that transport costs constitute a considerable share of the total costs when trading in waste glass. Hence, the trade volume is low in comparison with the overall recycling volume. In addition, most trade takes place between neighbouring countries, limiting the transport distances and transport costs, thus extra-EU export volumes are also low.
For paper and cardboard, and plastic, the data show a more complex picture.
Figure 9 shows the EU trade volume of secondary paper and cardboard materials according to trade flows. For paper and cardboard materials, intra-EU trade increased from 7.6 million tonnes in January 2004 to 10.6 million tonnes in December 2011. In the period 2013-2015, intra-EU trade volume fell below 10 million tonnes per year. Then, it has stabilised at around 10-11 million tonnes per year in the period 2016-2020. In 2020, intra-EU trade volume increased to almost 12 million tonnes.
Extra-EU exports volumes for secondary paper and cardboard materials are relatively fewer and stable. First, extra-EU exports grew strongly from just 3.9 million tonnes/year in 2004 to close to 8 million tonnes/year in 2009. In the following years, they dropped to a level of between 5 and 6 million tonnes/year in the period 2010-2020. However, in 2019 the volume of paper and cardboard waste exported to countries outside the EU fell below 5 million tonnes. In 2020, the volume of paper and cardboard rose again to 5.6 million tonnes.
The price indicator for secondary paper and cardboard materials in the EU, by trade flow, is shown in Figure 10. The prices of all three categories show similar trends. Due to the inclusion of transport costs, import prices tend to be higher than export prices.
The developments of the trade flows for secondary plastic materials is shown in Figure 11. The overall trend doesn't looks similar to that seen for secondary paper and cardboard materials in Figure 9. Extra-EU imports of plastic waste amounted to approximately 149 000 tonnes in 2004 and had risen to 612 400 tonnes by 2019- which dropped to 511 000 tonnes in 2020. From 2009 to 2010, the volumes imported from outside the EU almost doubled, reaching 406 000 tonnes in 2010. A steep year-on-year increase was also observed from 2014 (444 000 tonnes) to 2015 (571 000 tonnes). Intra-EU trade in secondary plastic materials stood at approximately 671 600 tonnes in 2004 and had increased to almost 2 million tonnes by 2020. Extra-EU exports rose from 1 million tonnes in 2004 to around 2.3 million tonnes in 2009, more than doubling over that period. However, the exports of secondary plastic materials fell sharply to 1.8 million tonnes in 2017 and continued this steep fall to 1.3 million in 2019. This reflected the decision of China to ban imports of secondary plastic materials, among several categories of solid secondary materials, from 1 January 2018. In 2019 and 2020, extra-EU exports stabilised at around 1.3 million tonnes.
The development of the specific price of secondary plastic materials by trade flow is shown in Figure 12. The trend is quite different from that of paper. The higher price seen in the intra-EU trade of secondary plastic materials suggests that the quality of this material was higher than that imported to or exported from the EU. The price slumped for all three trade flows in 2009 and 2010, in connection with the international financial and economic crisis, but recovered from 2011 on. The announcement of China’s decision to stop importing plastic waste and a number of other solid waste categories from the end of 2017 led to a sharp fall in extra-EU export prices in 2016. In 2018, the price of extra-EU exports fell to 253 EUR/tonne, falling below the price of extra-EU imports (282 EUR/tonne) for the first time. By 2019, the extra-EU export price had fallen to 246 EUR/tonne, almost equalling the bottom level seen in 2009 (240 EUR/tonne) at the height of the economic crisis. In 2020, the price of plastic hit a new low at 209 EUR/tonne for extra-EU exports and 246 EUR/tonne for extra-EU imports.
The presented trade figures allow valuable insights for the implementation of the European thematic strategies on resources and on waste prevention and recycling, including for the Circular Economy. Assessing the international trade in goods data with the same methodology by country of origin and destination would provide an even more detailed insight.
The European market has a big trade surplus and the intra-EU trade is in development. The pandemic didn't affect the trade of secondary materials.
On 1 January 2018, China's import ban for certain waste material came into effect. As a result, EU exports have almost halved. The remaining exports have shifted to other countries.
Source data for tables and graphs
Data sources and availability
Eurostat’s International trade in goods statistics is the data source for the presented indicators. The following paragraphs detail the international trade in goods statistics codes considered for the different waste categories.
Glass secondary materials
Glass materials are reported in international trade in goods statistics under one code: 70010010 (see Table 1). Please take note that the code ’glass cullets’ also contains some industrial material.
Paper and cardboard secondary materials
Paper and cardboard materials are reported in international trade in goods statistics under six codes (see Table 2). It reports three fractions of mostly industrial waste (47071000, 47072000, 47073090) and three fractions covering waste paper and cardboard collected and sorted. As all fractions are covered by the Waste Statistics Regulation, we take all six products into account for the indicator.
Plastic secondary materials
Plastic materials are reported in international trade in goods statistics under nine codes from 2000-2003, under six codes from 2004-2009 and five codes 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. Numbers 5 and 7 in the table are combined to the new position #6. Additionally, the positions #10, #11 and #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 EUR) and volume (in tonnes) of all relevant international trade in goods codes. Value divided by volume gives the specific price indicator (in EUR/tonne)
Value and volume is extracted from international trade in goods statistics as intra-EU and extra-EU trade for import, extra-EU for export. The price indicator is shown as monthly data or yearly average data.
The total volume of the traded secondary 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 the EU. This indicator is shown as monthly data (tonnes/month) for a month or the yearly average (12 times tonnes/month).
International trade in goods statistics are published monthly, with a delay of approximately 2.5 months.
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All publications on waste issued by Eurostat.
- Intra-EU trade (or Intrastat)- Regulation (EC) No 638/2004 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 31 March 2004 on Community statistics relating to the trading of goods between Member States and repealing Council Regulation (EEC) No 3330/91 and Commission Regulation (EC) No 1982/2004 of 18 November 2004 implementing Regulation (EC) No 638/2004.
- Extra-EU trade (or Extrastat)- Regulation (EC) No 471/2009 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 6 May 2009 on Community statistics relating to external trade with non-member countries and repealing Council Regulation (EC) No 1172/95, Commission Regulation (EU) No 113/2010 of 9 February 2010 implementing Regulation (EC) No 471/2009 of the European Parliament and of the Council on Community and Commission Regulation (EU) No 92/2010 of 2 February 2010 implementing Regulation (EC) No 471/2009 of the European Parliament and of the Council on Community.
- Combined Nomenclature- Regulation (EC) No 638/2004 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 31 March 2004 on Community statistics relating to the trading of goods between Member States and repealing Council Regulation (EEC) No 3330/91 and Council Regulation (EEC) No 2658/87 of 23 July 1987 on the tariff and statistical nomenclature and on the Common Customs Tariff and Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2021/1832 of 12 October 2021 amending Annex I to Council Regulation (EEC) No 2658/87 on the tariff and statistical nomenclature and on the Common Customs Tariff.
- Regulation (EC) No 2150/2002 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 November 2002 on waste statistics