Exports of recycling worth £3.9 billion to UK trade balance


A new report from Defra has shown that the value of exported recyclate makes a direct net positive contribution to the UK trade balance of £3.9 billion.

The report, Resource Management: a catalyst for growth and productivity, looked at the recent and future contribution to wider growth of extracting greater value from waste, increasing resource efficiency and increasing the export of goods and services.


It noted that recovered material is often exported overseas often to where it was first manufactured and that the domestic reprocessing sector is not large enough to use up all materials recovered in the UK.

The report cited paper where 7.9 million tonnes is consumed, but only 4.6 million tonnes manufactured, as a reason why material has to be exported.

It added: “This also contributes to improving the UK trade balance compared to not collecting/recycling the material. In 2013, the UK exported 13 million tonnes of key recovered materials (metals, paper, plastics and textiles) worth £4.35 billion.

“This accounted for 8% by weight of all UK export of goods, supporting economic activity in the shipping and ports sector and providing a source of revenue for vessels that might otherwise be leaving the UK empty. Given the UK imports relatively few recovered materials (0.8 million tonnes), the direct net positive contribution to the UK trade balance is worth £3.9 billion.”

However, this contrasts with the £0.3 to £0.5 billion estimated worth of household dry recovered material in 2012.

Secondary Commodity Markets 2015 – the conference for buyers and sellers of recyclable materials takes place on 3 March 2015 in London. Find out more here

The report also said that prices of materials have broadly recovered from the crash in 2008-09, although there are downward pressures in the short- to medium-term particularly for plastic.

Over the long term, global resource demand is expected to treble from 2000 to 2050, and it argued that as the global economy recovers, there will be a strong economic driver on resource efficiency and substitute raw material for recovered material consumption.

On resource efficiency, the study found that since 200, raw material consumption per unit of GDP has reduced and this suggests there has been some decoupling of resource use and income generation across the economy. But it suggested that this does not provide a direct measure of the extent to which UK manufactures are becoming more resource efficient or using recycled materials in place of raw materials.

Indeed, within the commercial and industrial sectors between 2009 and 2012, there appears to have been little change in waste efficiency per unit of output. This would suggest other actions have driven resource efficiency over the period.