Analysis: How waste plastic export destinations have changed in 2020

Destinations for waste plastic polymers from UK
The key destinations for UK exports of PE-based recyclable plastics

In this article, I look at how the export destinations have changed in 2020 compared to 2019 for PE-based recyclable materials (HS 391510 commodity code) from the UK.

This is based on HMRC data that is available for up to September 2020. For direct comparative purposes, I have used the period January to September 2020 and January to September 2019.


To qualify for inclusion on this list, at least 1,000 tonnes in a single month needed to have been exported to the country in question. In some circumstances, this was a regular occurrence, while for others it may have only happened once.

Destinations are listed in order of their 2020 imports of UK material.

A total of 211,519 tonnes was exported to these key destinations in January to September 2019, but this fell by 27,951 tonnes in the comparative period of 2020 to 183,568 tonnes.

As can be seen in the chart above, Turkey has been the key destination for this commodity code for both periods, but has actually grown in the comparative period for 2020.

From January to September 2020, 77,437 tonnes has been exported from the UK to Turkey, up from 63,962 tonnes.

In 2020 so far, Poland has become the second most important destination for UK material, taking 27,299 tonnes. But its elevation into second place has largely been a result of standing still while other destinations have dropped, as in the same period in 2019 a relatively similar 27,058 tonnes went to Poland.

Malaysia has fallen to third in the table with 26,385 tonnes, a drop of 16,637 tonnes from 2019’s 43,022 tonnes.

Fourth is the Netherlands which like Poland hasn’t changed much increasing to 13,056 tonnes in 2020 compared to 12,552 tonnes in 2019 – a difference of 504 tonnes.

Spain is fifth on the list with 12,248 tonnes this year, but dropping 882 tonnes on 2019’s 13,130 tonnes.

Next up is Germany with 8,480 tonnes in 2020, rising by 2,031 tonnes from 6,449 tonnes in the comparative period the year before.

Seventh on the list and recording the biggest drop is Hong Kong. It lost 33,714 tonnes in 2020 reaching just 7,952 tonnes compared to 41,666 tonnes in the same period a year earlier.

Next up was Irish Republic, which increased by 3,844 tonnes to 6,281 tonnes in 2020 from 2019’s 2,437 tonnes.

Last on this table was Belgium with 4,430 tonnes sent there in 2020 compared to 1,243 tonnes in 2019 – a rise of 3,187 tonnes.

CountryJan-Sep 2020 TonnesJan-Sep 2019 Tonnes
Hong Kong7,95241,666
Irish Republic6,2812,437

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