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Brave new world of MRFs

As implementation of the new MRF regulations draws nearer, Gavin Barnes considers the type of equipment needed to handle sampling requirements and enhance quality

Despite criticisms of the new MRF Code of Practice, which comes into play on 1 October this year, one fact remains: in 2014 material recycling facilities (MRFs) are going to have to spend time improving the quality of their dry recyclates.

Ensuring compliance with these new regulations will help to dispel fears of an uneven playing field in output quality between different MRFs, and it could present the UK as a high quality and well regulated player in global recycling.

When Defra published the long-awaited Code of Practice in February 2013, with a focus on quality standards and equality for small and large scale MRFs, concerns were raised over the viability of the new regulations.

One year on, the Code’s consultation document has been published, showing the diverse nature of the industry’s responses to the new guidelines. Possibly the most controversial recommendation was the idea that materials should be sampled in MRFs that produce over 1,000 tonnes of recyclate a year in order to establish quality.

In fact, during the consultation, 55% of responses did not agree with the proposals on sampling. The main reason for this was that with samples confined only to MRFs producing over 1,000 tonnes of recyclate, this would still enable smaller MRFs to produce more low quality recyclate which would not accurately reflect the new quality standards in audits. A further reason was the difficulty faced in obtaining large samples from MRFs.

But despite criticisms on effecting the new sampling standards, and how easy it would be for smaller MRFs to circumvent best practice, the Code poses an interesting new challenge to larger scale MRFs.

Previously, the voluntary nature of the Recycling Registration Service gave companies an excuse not to fully regulate and record the quality of their input and output materials. Under the new Code’s proposals, the fact that companies will legally have to report quality is likely to increase competition among MRFs which, in turn, is likely to increase the quality of production, something operators need to be prepared for.

As Lord de Mauley, then resource minister, put it when the MRF Code plans were revealed in February last year, there is a “strong business and environmental case for driving up quality” in MRF facilities.

While I agree with De Mauley, because a higher quality of produce can only be beneficial, I realise that the idea that businesses ‘must speculate to accumulate’ may be filling many with dread.  The £13m price tag the Government predicts it will cost MRFs to implement the Code is no small sum, despite the promise that £31m could be saved in higher material revenue and reduced landfill costs.

The best way to get the best quality waste is for MRF operators to ensure they are working with the correct system for the materials that they are handling.

As the quality of output is so important, operators can select specialist solutions to sort and screen accurately, allowing only the correct waste to pass through. By improving the overall quality of materials output, MRFs will make the sampling process quicker and far more pain-free.

Two effective ways of ensuring quality sorting processes are in place, specifying a MRF system that incorporates a trommel or star screen, depending on the waste materials involved. This can effectively, accurately and consistently sort the waste, so offering improved quality, which is sometimes compromised when waste is not sorted mechanically.

By reducing trommel fines from waste, companies will also reduce the amount of money spent in landfill tax.

The size of a facility is also important when retrofitting equipment for the new Code. For the smaller MRF, a mobile screen may be suitable, while a larger facility may require static equipment.  Kit with flexibility is also essential to enable MRFs to process a variety of waste sizes and streams, also considering future requirements.

By investing in equipment that is custom built to suit their handling requirements, operators can ultimately improve the quality of their samples. Other important pieces of equipment include optical sorters, overband magnets, eddy current separators and ballistic separators.

By ensuring that equipment is of the highest quality - even if updating and investing over a period of time - businesses are ensuring that they will be in the best position to comply with the new Code and any legislation to be announced in coming years. As we all know, best practice always gleans the best results and this should be at the forefront of any operator’s mind.

A fully audited MRF Code of Practice could increase the UK’s presence as a global player in recycling exports. It also has the potential to encourage greater collaboration along the supply chain and even reduce the amount of illegal exports. This is a new outlook for MRFs, which if operators are well prepared, could be highly positive for the industry.  

Gavin Barnes is a Recycling Project Engineer at Tong Peal Engineering, designer and manufacturer of handling and sorting equipment.

 

MRF code – at a glance

From October 2014, MRFs in England and Wales which sort mixed dry recyclate from household and commercial commingled collections and handle more than 1,000 tonnes of material a year will be subject to new regulations designed to boost the quality of material they produce.

They will be required to run sampling to check the composition of their input and output materials.

The following sampling will be required:

MaterialMin sample weight (kg)Frequency pre-2016: one sample per tonnage throughput specified belowFrequency post-2016: one sample per tonnage throughput specified below
Input60160125
ResidualNot requiredNot requiredNot required
Paper508060
Glass105050
Metal102020
Plastic202015

 

  • Operators of MRFs must not only measure the total amount of mixed waste material received by that facility during a reporting period but also the amount of mixed waste that is received from each supplier.
  • Defra plans to develop non-statutory sampling guidance and to provide clarification on the methodology for taking samples in a statistically representative manner.
  • Test results will be published via the Environment Agency and Natural Resources Wales, and made transparent to stakeholders. This information is designed to help support market operations through better and transparent information, stimulating the market conditions necessary to improve quality of the material produced by MRFs so it can be more readily recycled.
  • Defra has stated that work has started on developing a reporting tool for MRFs to report their sampling results. It is expected to be available in time for the first reporting period. It is being undertaken by WRAP with support from Defra, EA and Natural Resource Wales.
  • EA/Natural Resources Wales will conduct one announced and one unannounced inspection each year.

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