EU recorded a trade surplus in waste materials in 2020

Despite the pandemic, the total traded amounts in EUR of glass, paper and cardboard secondary waste materials didn’t change significantly between 2019 and 2020, while for plastic it dropped by almost 18 %. These waste materials are collected for recycling and are then used in manufacturing instead or alongside ‘virgin’ raw materials.

In 2020, the EU market presented a trade surplus in plastic (+1 million tonnes) and paper (+4.2 million tonnes) materials, indicating a drain of secondary raw materials.

Exports of secondary plastic materials from the EU Member States to non-EU countries amounted to 1.5 million tonnes in 2020, while exports of glass materials amounted to 0.34 million tonnes and exports of secondary paper materials amounted to 6.7 million tonnes. Compared to 2019, they represented a 4 %, 12 %, and 16 % increase, respectively.

In 2020, imports of secondary glass materials from non-EU countries into the EU amounted to 0.6 million tonnes. Imports of secondary plastic materials to 0.6 million tonnes and paper to 2.6 million tonnes.

Compared with 2019, glass and paper secondary materials registered a 2 % and 5 % increase, while imports of secondary plastic materials declined by 17 %.

As for prices of secondary waste materials, in 2020, a tonne of glass sold for EUR 55, paper and cardboard for EUR 104 and plastic for EUR 245. Compared to 2019, prices dropped an average of 14 %.


The observation of markets that trade these materials, which are originally used for consumer-related packaging, is less developed than the established markets for steel and aluminium scrap, but its findings are relevant to policy makers developing recycling strategies as part of the Circular Economy.

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