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Defra and EA thought 200 MRFs would qualify for sampling regime

Whitehall officials expected 200 facilities to qualify for the new MRF sampling regime in England, more than twice the number that actually registered for the scheme’s launch in July.

MRW exclusive

The initial total of 90 – and 86 in the second set of reports in September – raised eyebrows in the industry, and prompted an official statement from Defra that this was “less than what we and the EA had initially envisioned”. No mention was made of the 200 expected total.

But the number is quoted in emails between officials in the Environment Agency (EA) and Defra, seen by MRW following a Freedom of Information request, which also indicates that the EA would be writing to operators they thought should be involved.

The email was sent on 15 July, the day before the first set of results were released under the new regime for MRF operators in England and Wales, on an online portal being overseen by WRAP.

An EA email, titled: ‘Urgent - MRF data media line’ includes the observation: “We initially identified that up to 200 in England may handle enough material to come under these regulations and would have to identify the EA of this.”

This email is in response to one from a Defra official reporting on a briefing, ahead of the release of the data, with representatives of the Environmental Services Association (ESA) and the Resource Association (RA).

Whilst it indicates that the ESA and RA “were broadly happy and content with the situation”, the writer notes the main issue of concern was around the total number of facilities reporting: “They were keen to know what action the EA were taking”.

Another email, also from a Defra official, makes clear that unregistered regulators would be contacted by the EA by letter but asks if it is necessary to add anything about further action if that did not yield results. It also suggests it could take up to two years before the data is sufficiently robust.

The email which mentioned the figure of 200 also indicates that the EA would be following up on those sites that had not responded or notified [to]:

  • Check sites were still operational
  • Check the sites’ waste returns to verify they have handled enough relevant material for notification
  • Visit sites as necessary

Defra sought a low-key approach to the new scheme by not publicly announcing the dataset. An email on possible media queries includes an observation that the press office would comment on the portal launch only if asked. These were reported by MRW at the time.

Another EA email from April shows early teething troubles for the first set of data, covering Q4 2014. At that point 83 of the 90 had submitted data. But the EA had go back to 79 of them because of quality assurance concerns “ranging from sampling issues to simple data queries (spurious numbers)”.

It prompts a reply that 47 had either resubmitted data or an explanation. “The remaining 32 have not yet responded. As a result we have reduced confidence in their data.”

  • MRW’s request was submitted in July. Despite a presumption that it would be processed within 21 working days, the emails were finally received in late October.

‘Refreshing’ insight

The emails released to MRW also show a lighter side with discussion around where meetings between Defra and WRAP could be held. A Defra official points out that only water could be provided as refreshment if the department hosted the talks. The WRAP representative replied that they could “stretch to bringing some biscuits” at the Banbury HQ.

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