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Defra stubborn over MRF Code sampling levels

Responses to the consultation on the new MRF regulations reveal that Defra paid little attention to a number of concerns over sampling levels.

Sampling is a key measure under the code, where MRF operators will be required to check the composition of material from its suppliers.

Around 40% of respondents felt the proposed sampling frequencies and weights were “too low to achieve sufficiently robust results.”

Only 22% agreed with the proposed level, with the remainder arguing the level was too high or disagreeing on other grounds.

Six reprocessors and trade associations suggested a quadrupling of the sample frequencies and weights.

Defra’s amendments were higher for inputs in both weight and frequency, but there were few significant changes for most separate recyclable materials. They also removed time-based sampling frequency to help smaller facilities.

Defra also asked respondents if material transferred from one MRF to another should not be sampled:

  • 34% agreed
  • 52% did not agree

Those not in favour were concerned that transfers without sampling could be seen as potentially allowing poor quality material to reach the market.

They also preferred recyclates to be tested by all MRFs regardless of size and origin of feedstock to ensure quality is monitored throughout.

Despite strong opposition, Defra retained the exclusion because it expects such material only to be measured as part of inputs at the receiving MRF.

Defra also asked about the possibility of sampling reductions where a high degree of consistency is shown:

  • 50% agreed
  • 28% did not agree

Depsite strong support for the provision, Defra dropped it “for the benefit of clarity and simplicity, and in order to have one standard approach to sampling”.

Respondents were also asked if the code should only apply to plants processing more than 1,000 tonnes per annum:

  • 44% agreed
  • 40% did not agree

Those not in favour said all MRFs should be included irrespective of size to ensure a level playing field. This would also avoid abuse of the system with larger MRFs sending poor quality waste to small MRFs who fall below the threshold.

Despite significant levels of concern, the Government kept its original de minimis threshold. However it remains under review to allay the concerns.

The Government also asked if minimum standards should be included:

  • 51% agreed
  • 34% did not agree

Despite a majority in favour, Defra said: “The underlying purpose of these regulations is not to set minimum standards but rather to provide a mechanism for transparency and more meaningful information on the quality of recyclates.

“The market will itself determine the standards that are required.”

Furthermore, Defra said a significant number of respondents wanted the MRF code to also apply to facilities handling separately collected material or separating a single stream such as mixed paper into different paper streams.

However, the department said: “We do not have evidence to justify such a significant expansion in scope of the Regulations at this stage, so we plan to retain the focus of the regulations on MRFs.”

Financial impact of MRF code changes

Since the initial impact assessment, the number of MRFs considered to be within scope of the regulations has increased to 167 facilities from the original 74.

The best estimate of costs to businesses also grew to £8.67m from £8.2m

The estimated net benefits of the changes have decreased to £25.3m (over 10 years) down from £30.9m.

Readers' comments (2)

  • Bernard Chase

    No Surprises here then.
    There remains a strong suspicion among businesses that actually reprocess recyclables here in the UK that the MRF Code of Conduct and the proposed ‘sampling regime’ that goes with it are a mere sop in their general direction with no real intent upon achieving improvements in quality whatsoever.
    It is indeed true that “the market will itself determine the standards that are required”, and that market has for the last decade or more been determined by the willingness of overseas markets to pay for our poorly collected and poorly sorted mixed recyclables.
    It is not the fact of this current state of affairs that causes affront, rather the pretence that there is any wish or will on the part of Government to fundamentally change this county’s approach to dealing with its waste from one of low cost expedience to one that is driven instead by quality, value and resource efficiency in the fullest sense.

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  • I believe Defra has hugely underestimated the number of facilities that will be affected by this assuming that it applies to C&I waste facilities as well as HH waste (although I have yet to find a document that defines 'similar in nature and composition to household waste' as including commercial).
    The definition of a MRF is 'a regulated facility or part of a regulated facility that receives mixed waste material in order to separate it into specified output material for the purpose of selling it, or transferring it to other facilities or persons to enable that material to be recycled by those facilities or persons'. Does this mean just sorting facilities or does it also mean transfer stations that do sorting? If the latter, then virtually every transfer station in the country would be affected, more than 1000 sites I believe the EA has estimated.
    Given that all it does is impose a sampling requirement not a quality standard, will the publishing of the sampling actually have any effect if someone will buy the material regardless?

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