Plastic Packaging Market Study (Plastic Flow) 2014

16th December 2014

Plastic Flow reviews the quantity of plastic packaging being placed on the market (POM) and recycled in 2013.

Key points
Estimate of UK flow for 2013 is 2,260k tonnes, a reduction of 332k tonnes from estimated current flow figure
If revised flow figure is adopted UK recycling performance is higher percentage than previously reported
Significant increases in recycling still required to meet current business targets

Project estimate plastic POM

Packaging handled & flow trends


This project was commissioned by Valpak Limited and Defra, and carried out by Valpak Consulting and WRAP, to provide support for plastic packaging material flow estimates in Defra’s packaging policy work. The objective was to review the quantity of plastic packaging being placed on the market (POM) and recycled in 2013. The project also reviewed the implications of various scenarios for future recycling rates out to 2020.

The method to achieve this was primary and secondary research with engagement of a stakeholder steering group. The steering group comprised Defra, the Environment Agency, The British Plastics Federation (BPF), the British Polythene Industries (BPI), Plastics and Film Association (PAFA), Recoup, Plastics Europe, The Advisory Committee on Packaging (ACP), Wastepack, Valpak, WRAP, Zero Waste Scotland (ZWS) and 360 Environmental.

Project Key Conclusions: Flow

  • The project’s final best estimate of UK flow for 2013 is 2,260k tonnes, a reduction of 332k tonnes from the estimated current flow figure.
  • The new flow estimate is similar to the 2006 estimated flow of 2,284k tonnes.
  • Although the 2006 and 2013 estimates are derived from differing methods, the trend between them indicates 0% growth in flow data. This trend is corroborated by reported data from the National Packaging Waste Database (NPWD) over the same time period and by replicating the method used for estimating the grocery sector packaging usage in 2013 for 2006. Our base case scenario is that this trend will continue.

Project Key Conclusions: Recycling

  • Assuming that the new POM figure is adopted, the recycling performance of the UK is a higher percentage than was previously reported.
  • Significant increases in recycling are still required in order to meet the current business targets.
  • The current business targets (if achieved) will result in the UK exceeding its current policy intention (as set out in Defra 2011 Consultation).
  • The recycling rates for plastic are expected to increase through to 2020 if current trends continue.

Data Sources

The amount of plastic packaging POM was calculated using the following methods and data sources:

  • Consumer: Packaging used in the consumer sector was estimated using retail sector sales data and packaging usage.
  • Non-consumer: Packaging used in the non-consumer sector was taken from a range of sources, including industry estimates of film production, the National Packaging Waste Database (NPWD) and various secondary data sources for rigid plastic packaging usage.

Data Uncertainties and Appropriate Confidence in Estimates 

The data presented in the Plastic Flow report intends to represent the best estimate possible, given the available data. However, owing to uncertainties inherent in many of the data sources and assumptions used, it is important to caveat the robustness of the estimates. Appendix III includes an assessment of the uncertainty and robustness of the estimates.

Plastic Packaging POM

The estimated quantity of plastic packaging POM in 2013 was 2,260k tonnes. There remains an area of uncertainty in the detail of the estimation. The key area of uncertainty is within the non-consumer rigids sector.

In 2013, the level of plastic packaging recycled by accredited organisations (those registered with the Environment Agency) was 714k tonnes; using the revised POM, this would give a recycling rate of 32%. 

Meeting the EU Plastic Recycling Target

The estimates of packaging POM and reprocessed quantity shows that the UK recycling target of 27.4% for plastic packaging would have been exceeded in 2013 by 4.6%.

A scenario analysis covering the period 2013 to 2020 was developed. This included quantities POM and reprocessed.  A projection for the amount of packaging POM based on historical trends was produced. The plastics packaging industry estimated a flow figure of 2,284k tonnes of plastic packaging in 2006, which means that since then, and using the flow of 2,260k tonnes, there has been no growth in overall plastic packaging consumption (in terms of weight) over the last eight years. 

Assuming no growth in flow to 2020 and that plastic packaging recycling expands at the same rate as it has done historically the recycling rates for plastic packaging would be 38% in 2017 and 43% in 2020.