The 2021 Plastics Market situation report provides in-depth information on the latest economic, market and regulatory trends affecting the capture and recycling of plastics. It explores key developments over the past few years and highlights the challenges and opportunities for the decade ahead.

Key points

  • UK plastic film recycling capacity was estimated to be just over 205k tonnes in 2020, this is projected to increase, although significant investment is required.
  • Rigid plastic packaging recycling capacity was estimated to be 440k tonnes in 2020, should all planned new capacity come on-stream in full then total rigid plastic packaging recycling capacity could rise by almost 300k tonnes by 2025.
  • It looks likely that import restrictions will continue to increase for low quality plastic waste, this, on top of new international legislation from the Basel amendment, has increased the importance of domestic capacity to sustainably manage plastic waste.
  • The UK are looking to increase domestic capacity to recycle and reuse plastic waste, as well as consulting on policies to improve the quality of recovered plastic and create demand for recycled plastics.
  • The market for recovered and recycled plastics is likely to continue to grow over the next 5–10 years.
  • Greater competition for recycled plastics, along with other factors, have led to large increases in the cost of recycled plastics but this hasn't, in most cases, led to a reduction in demand.

Report chapters

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UK plastic placed on the market/arising

Total plastic packaging placed on the market (POM) is estimated to have declined by 3% between 2017 and 2019 to 2.3Mt.

Overall collection trends

In 2018/19, UK Local Authorities are estimated to have collected 572kt of plastic packaging for recycling from the UK household waste stream (Table 4), 4% higher than the amount collected in 2017/18.

Plastic packaging recycling

An estimated 1.2Mt of the UK’s plastic packaging was recycled in 2020, a fourfold increase from levels achieved in the early 2000s.

Flexibles focus 

Overall UK film packaging POM in 2019 was 665k tonnes, broadly split evenly between consumer and non-consumer sectors.

Rigid plastics focus 

Overall UK rigid plastic packaging (includes plastic bottles, PTTs and other non-flexible plastic packaging) POM in 2019 was estimated to be 1.6Mt.


Defra’s Resources and Waste Strategy (RWS) for England, published in late 2018, proposes a number of policy measures that could impact the supply and demand for recovered plastic packaging and other materials in the UK.

Prices for recycled ploymers 

Restrictions on imports by the largest importer meant that the UK’s recovered plastic film exports had to compete for markets against exports from other countries.


While we need to eliminate unnecessary and problematic packaging, we can’t just stop using all plastic in packaging. For example, plastic packaging can play an important role in protecting food, making it last longer and stopping it from being wasted.

Conclusions and outlook 

With global plastic consumption likely to continue to rise in the near future, driven by increases in demand from Asian and emerging economies, it is more important than ever that all countries have the necessary waste management infrastructure in place to deal with plastic waste responsibly and sustainably.

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  • Plastics Market Situation Report 2021

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