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Defra launches MRF code consultation

The long awaited consultation on a MRF code of practice for England and Wales has been launched.

The code would require operators to measure and report material stream compositions to provide information to reprocessors and local authorities.

Launching the code and Quality Action Plan at Veolia’s Southwark facility in south London, resources minister Lord de Mauley said the mandatory code would help ensure there was sufficient quantity of recyclable material available to the UK’s £3bn recycling industry.

Welsh environment minister John Griffiths said: “Improved transparency in reporting on the quality of materials from MRFs will help us to identify where progress needs to be made in order to improve the quality of Wales’s recycling.

“Improving the quality of our recycled material is important as high quality recyclate can be reprocessed here in the Wales, retaining our valuable resources and creating jobs in the waste and resource management industry. This is a top priority for us all in today’s economically challenging times.”

Details of the Defra and Welsh Government proposals:

  • Compliance with the code of practice would be an environmental permiting requirement for MRFs with an output of more than 1000 tonnes a year.
  • The proposed code includes sampling and composition testing requirements by material stream.
  • MRF data would be reported to the Environment Agency or Natural Resources Wales.
  • Data could be made publically available.
  • Annual independent audits are proposed, of: MRF sampling and recording; compliance with export regulations; and equipment maintenance and health and safety practices.
  • Enforcement of the code through the Environmental Permitting Regulations with sanctions including enforcement and suspension notices, fines and imprisonment.
  • No minimum mandatory standards for output material.

Linked to the MRF code in the the Quality Action Plan, there will be a voluntary system for grading material. This could be aligned with end-of-waste criteria, export controls, and the PRN/PERN system.

Matthew Farrow, director of policy at the ESA said: “MRFs are a vital part of the recycling supply chain and there are many excellent ones which consistently produce high quality material which meets their customers’ needs. However, not all MRFs are up to scratch and that is why we have consistently lobbied Defra to make the Code a compulsory, rather than a voluntary, scheme for all MRFs.

“Ministers have wisely shown that the deregulatory priorities of the Government are not appropriate in every situation and that this is a sector where proportionate regulation can boost investment and green growth.”

WRAP chief executive Liz Goodwin said quality recyclate was important for the whole supply chain: “The industry has made great strides in improving quality, and some MRFs are producing excellent quality recyclate. But it’s in all of our interests to make sure that we’re extracting the maximum possible value out of our recyclate across the board, in order to compete effectively in both domestic and overseas markets. Higher quality materials will also attract higher, more stable prices.”

Chris Dow, CEO at Closed Loop Recycling, said the code of practice was an opportunity to completely change recycling in the UK.

Other measures in the Quality Action Plan include:

  • A consultation to be launched on amending the PRN/PERN system: to even out PRN/PERN disparities, apply consistent quality criteria, and possibly to link PRN/PERN value to material quality.
  • Amend guidance to councils on recycle rate reporting to take account of MRF reject rate.
  • Use data from MRF code reporting to assist EA enforcement of waste shipment controls.
  • Possible guidance on an upper threshold of contamination for recyclate exports.
  • Possible public reporting of EA waste export inspection results.

De Mauley said he recognised there would be differences of opinion about some of the specifics of the MRF code.

Proposed material output sampling requirements are unlikely to satisfy reprocessors who have already strongly rejected very similar proposals in the Scottish MRF code.

Ray Georgeson chief executive of the Resource Association said the proposed sampling, auditing and inspection proposals were “wholly inadequate” to meet the requirements of the revised Waste Frameswork Directive and promote high quality recycling.

“We believe the proposed regime will be easily circumvented by rogue operators and the lack of unannounced inspection leaves the regime open to abuse”, he added.

Plans to require regular submission of MRF data to the EA and to make the data publicly available will likely be rejected by operators who have voiced opposition in the Scottish Government consultation.

The MRF code consultation ends on 26 April. The statutory elements would come into force on 6 April 2014.

Readers' comments (1)

  • We should welcome the fact that the proposals are now available and hope that the consultation is genuine.

    I hope that those with more technical knowledge will comment on the sampling regime. Even I know that to be meaningful, samples need to be drawn from a representative selection of the material. At the moment, by specifying only sample size and frequency, there is a lot of lee way to allow operators to influence the outcome. Without clear rules on sampling, any independent auditor would be at risk if they commented adversely.

    It seems a pity too that no minimum standards are to be set. I understand the problems with getting agreement on the "right" standards, but I don't understand why a baseline standard could not be set to encourage the retirement of the oldest and worst operations.

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