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Defra to confirm if MRF Code of Practice is mandatory this Autumn

A decision on whether the MRF Code of Practice, formulated by the Environmental Services Association, will be mandatory rather than voluntary is expected this Autumn, a Defra official confirmed.

Speaking at joint stakeholder event organised by WRAP, Defra, ESA and the EA yesterday, Defra policy lead on business, waste and recycling Louise Clark said the department would be conducting a cost-benefit analysis on the options over the summer and had “not ruled out making it [the Code of Practice] mandatory.”

She said: “A decision will be made in the Autumn, and if we decide to make it mandatory there will be a consultation.” Companies signed up to the Code are also expected to receive a “lighter touch” in terms of regulation.

In the Government’s Waste Review published mid-June, paragraph 164 stated a responsibility deal with the waste management industry would “promote quality in the way recyclable materials are sorted, particularly at Material Recovery Facilities, through an industry-led Code of Practice.”

The concept behind the Code of Practice is that it will require the measurement of the quality input and output material which will give MRF clients - local authorities, businesses and reprocessors – confidence in quality and contamination levels of MRF material.

ESA policy advisor David Sher said quality was an area often talked about but in “slightly vague” terms. “[Quality] is about producing materials for recycling markets, not about a percentage or a standard, it’s about a culture,” he said.

The Code includes a quality management system and independent verification, where a third party audits the system and checks evidence. But rather than the Code specifying contamination levels, Sher said it would be up to MRFs and their partners to agree on specifications for inputs and outputs as part of their contracts. He warned that compliance with the scheme may entail costs and that getting local authority buy in and support would be “essential” to its success.

He added: “We are conscious this is an ambitious approach and we don’t want to have a scheme where there is an incentive not to sign up.” It is hoped that customer choice will drive the system, as by working with MRFs who have signed up to the Code of Practice, they will have more assurance on materials quality.

Asked why the Code would not include maximum contamination levels, Sher said: “I don’t think it is our position as a trade association to say what the standards should be, we want to create a framework and a culture…we want to facilitate, not dictate.”

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