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Recycling – secondary material price indicator

From Statistics Explained

Data from August 2011. Most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Main tables and Database.

This article introduces the volume and price indicator for recyclables in the European Union (EU) set up by the Environmental Data Centre on Waste to provide relevant data and also to draw a broader picture of the market for secondary materials collected for recycling. Secondary materials are recovered waste materials which are to be sold and reused in manufacturing.

The indicator considers the volume of trade in secondary materials (million tonnes) and average prices for secondary materials (€/tonnes). 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-27 until February 2011 - Source: Eurostat COMEXT
Figure 2: Price indicator and trade volume for paper and board waste in EU-27 until February 2011 - Source: Eurostat COMEXT

In contrast to the well-established steel and aluminium scrap market, monitoring of other materials used for consumer-related packaging (such as glass, paper and board, plastics) is not so well developed, so the analysis focuses specifically on those materials. The indicators are likely to be of interest to stakeholders concerned with long-time performance of secondary-material markets, and may supplement privately-held data. Both elements, trade volumes and prices, are shown within the same graphs to highlight current trends and volatility.

Main statistical findings

Figure 3: Price indicator and trade volume for plastics waste in EU-27 until February 2011 - Source: Eurostat COMEXT
Figure 4: Price development for low and high quality paper waste in EU-27 until October 2009 - Source: Eurostat COMEXT
Figure 5: EU-27 extra import and extra export flows for plastics waste - Source: Eurostat COMEXT
Figure 6: Trade volume of paper waste in EU-27 according to trade flows - Source: Eurostat COMEXT
Figure 7: Price indicator of paper waste in EU-27 according to trade flows - Source: Eurostat COMEXT
Figure 8: Trade volume of plastics waste in EU-27 according to trade flows - Source: Eurostat COMEXT
Figure 9: Price indicator of plastics waste in EU-27 according to trade flows - Source: Eurostat COMEXT
Table 1: Codes in Foreign Trade Statistics for glass waste
Table 2: Codes in Foreign Trade Statistics for paper waste
Table 3: Changes in nomenclature for plastics waste
Table 4: Codes in Foreign Trade Statistics for plastics waste

The indicator shows that the price of recyclates has varied significantly over time, and this can lead to fluctuations in the trade of secondary materials. The most notable change over the last decade was a sharp reduction in secondary material prices during the financial crisis of 2008/2009. During this period, anecdotal evidence suggested that, in the short term, some waste management authorities had difficulties selling the materials they had collected for recycling. However, average annual figures for intra-EU-27 trade suggest that the markets for most secondary materials were not substantially affected.

The data also shows that, for materials which are often exported out of the EU for recycling, the price recovers well after the sharp reduction seen throughout 2008. Extra-EU-27 trade volumes in plastics, for example, drop significantly, but bounce back to levels higher than before 2008, despite the lower price. This suggests that the waste sector can deal with short-term crises in the secondary material markets. However, prolonged reductions in price will affect the economics of recycling collections, and, in the longer term, may lead to greater costs for the implementation of the European waste and recycling strategy.

The following sub-sections present the price and trade volumes for glass, paper and board and plastics. The data and figures will be updated regularly on the EDC web-site.


For both series in Figure 1 (price and volume), 12 month rolling averages are shown from 2000 to 2010 (the solid lines which remain constant over each year). From 2006 the data is also displayed on a monthly basis to highlight fluctuations in the data.

EU-27 trade in glass waste (blue line – 12 month rolling average) shows an increase from approx 250 000 tonnes/month in the year 2000 to nearly 350 000 tonnes/month in 2007. The monthly trade data (green line) demonstrates the high fluctuation. The development in trade has moved from a high of nearly 450 000 tonnes/month in the first half of 2007 to a low of 250 000 tonnes in early 2008, but within 2008 the trade recovered significantly. The highest trading volume since recording started was also seen in 2008, but dropped again slightly in 2009. The first two months of 2009 show a trading volume lower than the average of 2008, but the January/ February 2009 volume was still higher than the January/February volume in the years 2008 and 2007. The figure for 2010 is slightly lower. The data shows that the cross border traded volume accounts to approx. 15 % of glass waste separately collected in EU-27 according to the Waste Statistics Regulation. The cross border trade volume is dominated by intra-EU-27 trade. Extra-EU-27 trade is minor for glass.

The price development of glass waste is shown in the pink (yearly average) and blue line (monthly data). From 2000 to 2003 the average price was quite stable at around 37 €/tonnes. From 2004 onwards the price increased to 45-50 €/tonnes. The highest monthly price was observed in April 2008 at approx. 54 €/tonnes. The reported prices from January / February 2009 were still above the previous years, with prices of 49-51 €/tonnes.

Paper and board

For both series in Figure 2 (price and volume), 12 month rolling averages are given from 2000 to 2010. From 2006 only, the data is also displayed on a monthly basis to highlight fluctuations in the data.

The traded volume (blue line) has increased since 2001 and has nearly doubled during the following years, with the trade volume in 2010 being the highest on record. The monthly volume (green line) shows the fluctuation around the 12 month (yearly) average. Since mid-2008 the monthly traded volume has fluctuated dramatically. From an all-time high of 3.28 million tonnes in October 2008, a rapid decline to approx. 2.3 million tonnes in November 2008 is noticed. Since late 2008 the monthly volume has recovered to ‘before-crisis’ yearly averages.

The price data (pink line) does not follow the same trend as for traded volume. From 2000 to 2001 the price crashed from 130 €/tonnes to nearly 90 €/tonnes. It then bounced back in 2002 but stayed around 100 €/tonnes until 2007, and the 2000-level was again nearly reached in 2008. The monthly data (blue line) shows a steep increase in late 2007 to mid-2008 (133 €/tonne in April/March 2008). From October 2008 the price declines from approx. 122 €/tonnes to 74 €/tonnes in February 2009. Since then, the price has increased dramatically (doubling in just over a year) and has reached over 150 €/tonnes since September 2010.


For both series in Figure 3 (price and volume), 12 month rolling averages are given from 2000 to 2010. From 2006 only, the data is also displayed on a monthly basis to highlight fluctuations in the data.
The traded volume (blue line) tripled over the reported period from the year 2000 to 2010 from approximately 170 000 tonnes/month to nearly 600 000 tonnes/month. The monthly data (green line) shows a steady increase until late 2008 when the monthly volume sees a short-term drop from 490 000 tonnes/month to 380 000 tonnes/month by the end of the year 2008. The volume then bounced back to approx. 490 000 tonnes by February 2009. After another low in February 2010 trade has reached a high of approx. 700 000 tonnes in October 2010 and afterwards drops sharply again. The trade volume in 2010 is the highest on record, with an average volume of over 600 000 tonnes/month.

The price of plastic waste depends, on one hand of the supply and demand of plastic waste material, and on the other hand on crude oil price which strongly influences the price of the virgin (primary) material. The indicator shows a 10-20 % decrease in the price of plastic waste between 2000/2001 and the period 2002-2004. Since 2004 the price has increased to levels above 350 €/tonnes. The monthly data shows small fluctuations over the average yearly data (pink line) in the period from 2006 to 2008. From a high of approx. 375 €/tonnes in October 2008 a sharp decline to a price of approx. 230 €/tonnes in January 2009 is observed. The price has since recovered steadily to 300 €/tonnes by the end of 2010. Finally, the trade volume appears to recover very quickly but the price much more slowly.

Development of prices for low and high quality secondary materials

For paper and plastics 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 be developing in parallel. The observation of trade volumes gives a similar figure. Therefore it is reasonable to calculate only one price indicator for paper.

Export as the main driver

The strong increase in trade of plastics and paper leads to the question of who is importing all the secondary materials exported from the EU. For glass, imports and exports to the EU-27 are relatively small. The main trading partners are Switzerland, Norway, North Africa, Russia and Ukraine. For paper and plastics the intra-EU-27 trade is relatively stable but a strong increase in extra-EU-27 exports has also been observed.

Figure 5 illustrates the extra-EU-27 trade of plastics waste. It is clear that imports to EU-27 have been relatively stable from 2000 onwards but exports have significantly increased. In fact, nearly the whole increase in trade volume could be attributed to the extra-EU-27 export.

The figure shows the sharp decline in trade at the end of 2008. This mainly results from a reduction in extra-EU-27 exports. The main nations which import these EU exports are China, Hongkong and Singapore.

In 2006, 1.2 million tonnes/month of plastics waste was separately collected according to the waste statistics Regulation. When compared with the data above, this shows that nearly 20 % of the volume collected in the EU was exported overseas.

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 in-between neighbouring countries, and thus extra-EU-27 export volumes are also low.

For paper and plastics, the figures are much more interesting. Figures 6 and 7 depict the trade and price development of intra-EU-27, extra-EU-27 imports and extra-EU-27 exports for paper.


Figure 6 shows the trade volume of paper waste in EU-27 according to trade flows. For paper the intra-EU-27 trade volume is approx. 8 million tonnes/year in the years 2000-2003. Afterwards the intra-EU-27 trade increases to approx. 12 million tonnes/year in 2008. In 2009, a small decrease took place. Overall a nearly 50 % increase is observed during the period from 2000 to 2010.

The extra-EU-27 imports are small and stable, but the extra-EU-27 exports exhibit strong growth –  from 3.5 million tonnes/year in 2000 to more than 13 million tonnes/year in 2009. When compared with the amount of paper separately collected in the EU (Waste Statistics Regulation 2006: 63 million tonnes/year), the indicator shows that extra-EU-27 exports account for nearly 20 % of this volume.

The price indicator on paper waste in EU-27 according to trade flows is shown in Figure 7. Until 2005, the extra-EU-27 imports show significantly higher prices than the average. This might be due to a higher quality which is needed inside the EU-27. 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.


The characteristic of the trade flows for plastic is shown in Figure 8. The trend looks similar to that for paper. The main difference is that at the starting point (2000) the extra-EU-27 export exhibits the same volume as the intra-EU-27 trade.

The extra-EU-27 imports are approx. 64 000 tonnes in the year 2000 and rise to approx. 240 000 tonnes in 2008. The intra-EU-27 trade starts at approx. 650 000 tonnes in 2000 and increases to approx 1.3 million tonnes. The extra-EU-27 exports rise from 650 000 tonnes in 2000 to approx. 3.3 million tonnes in 2009, an increase of approx. 500 %.
The separately collected plastic waste accounts to 11.5 million tonnes in 2004 and 14.6 million tonnes in 2006 (WStatR). So a substantial part (0.7 million tonnes) of the increased collected plastics waste (3 million tonnes) is exported.

The development of the specific price according to trade flows is shown in Figure 9. The characteristic is different to the paper example. During the first years the prices are quite similar but diverge from 2003 onwards. The higher price seen in the intra-EU-27 implies that the quality of this material is higher than that imported to, or exported from, the EU. In contrast, the extra-EU-27 imports reflect the lower-price, and quality, material. In December 2009, approx. 70 % of the extra-EU-27 imports arrive from Norway and another 20 % from Switzerland. The specific price of the extra-EU-27 exports is in between the extra-EU-27 import price and the intra-EU-27 price.


The trade figures allow some valuable insights for the implementation of the European thematic strategies on resources and on waste prevention and recycling.

The European market has a big trade surplus and the EU-27 intra trade is developing well. The market of secondary materials is strongly backed by extra-EU-27 exports (i.e. exports out of the EU). The exports show a remarkable increase over the last decade, and now account for up to approx. 20 % of the supply 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 next paragraphs detail the included codes in foreign trade statistics.

Glass waste

Glass waste could be reported in foreign trade statistics under three codes. For this purpose only the monitoring of glass cullets makes sense. The two others (reporting glass in mass) are too small (see Table 1).  Please take note that the code 'glass cullets' also contain some industrial material.

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 our indicator.

Plastics waste

Plastics waste is reported in foreign trade statistics under nine items from 2000-2003 and under six positions from 2004 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. The following table 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 new price indicator sums up all value (in €) and volume (in tonnes) of all relevant FTS codes. Value over volume then gives the specific price indicator (in €/tonnes) 

Price indicator formula.PNG

Value and volume is extracted from foreign trade statistics as intra-EU-27 and extra-EU-27 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-27. 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 2000 was chosen as the starting point because reliable data for EU-27 is available from 2000 onwards.

Further Eurostat information


Main tables

Recovery rates for packaging waste (ten00062)
Recovery rates for packaging waste (ten00063)


Waste streams (env_wasst)
Packaging waste (env_waspac)

Dedicated section

Other information

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

External links

See also