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Feature: Mini marvels

As local authorities face up to the challenge of how best to deal with the vast quantities of material that is resulting from increased kerbside collections. Master Magnets is one company helping councils and waste management companies to look at the possibilities and overcome this problem.

The latest borough that will benefit from the efficiency of an MRF is Aberdeen. The council of the Granite City has been working with materials and waste recycling management service company SITA UK, and is planning a roll out of kerbside collections and hopes that the number of MRFs dealing with the waste will grow accordingly.

Aberdeen is fortunate though as SITA already has some experience in the working of the MRF, having already purchased and installed one. The MRF in Aberdeen for example is based on one Master Magnets produced for another SITA site in Bracknell, Berkshire three years ago.

According to Ron Sneddon, technical sales and recycling adviser at Redditch-based Master Magnets, the MRF or 'mini-MRF' as the new wave of small MRFs dealing with household collections are termed, are proving to be something of a success story despite the simplicity of their operation: "The mini MRF, and the one we first rolled out in Bracknell, have proved very successful," he says.

The mini MRF is also far more economical than its big industrial brother. "Minis will cost around £125,000, and that's with a second -hand bailer (as the new one in Aberdeen has), whereas the larger MRF's will cost you £1 million or £2 million or more."

Sneddon describes the mechanisms of the MRF: "There is a material receiving hopper, which meters out at a levelling gate. Then an eddy current separator sorts the steel from the aluminium, and the plastic. The magnet sorts the steel from the aluminium and plastic then falls out in the natural trajectory of materials. The plastic bottles are pierced, as the air that collects in them can prove dangerous in machinery. The bulk of material goes into a baler, and are all saved up separately before they are then collected for recycling."

The materials, all collected separately, are then sent off to be recycled, with steel more often than not being sent back to recipients such as British Steel.

The MRF is capable of dealing with more than 750kg of cans and bottles per day, which as Sneddon readily agrees is "a lot of plastic in terms of volume". They can be run for seven days a week, although most MRFs in municipal operations will only be working for five.

Peter Lawrence is general manager of SITA's site in Aberdeen where the latest mini-MRF was unveiled on December 14 last year. The MRF is new technology on a traditional waste management site. He explains: "This was an existing transfer station, where there was waste bailing some years ago, and we have simply moved the old equipment out to make way for this."

The road to Aberdeen acquiring the MRF and it becoming operational took a year, all told, Lawrence says, a year which involved negotiations with the client, submitting and obtaining planning permission and finalising the contract.

Now there are two people working on the MRF in Aberdeen, or two and a half, as Lawrence points out that they currently share a body with the waste transfer site for loading purposes. The MRF, three months on, is handling 300kg of kerbside waste an hour. Lawrence admits he is impressed, although he is keen to emphasise the simplicity behind

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