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Industry reacts to MRF code

The announcement that Defra has published its MRF Code of Practice has been widely supported, but some waste industry experts warn it does not go far enough.

Here MRW rounds up some initial reactions.

Ray Georgeson, chief executive of the Resource Association

Ray Georgeson

“We are pleased that the principle of regulating the input and output of materials from MRFs is now established and that there is Government recognition of the need to make improvements in this critical part of the recycling supply chain.”

“Throughout the development of these regulations we have maintained the view that more intense levels of sampling at around fourfold that proposed originally by Defra in their consultation are still needed. We have worked hard with colleagues in the industry to find a workable compromise that meets the Governments’ desire to balance robustness with practicality and political deliverability but overall still meets the original objective of the regulations – to address a market failure in this sector.”

“Our instincts are that the proposed regulations still fall a long way short of delivering that overall objective. They may prove to be so weak and easy to circumvent by rogue operators that they will not necessarily deliver confidence to reprocessors and the wider market that the data is worthwhile and useful.”

Barry Dennis, Environmental Services Association (ESA) director general

Ross Barry

“The ESA welcomes the new MRF Regulations laid before Parliament today. ESA and its members have worked hard for a number of years to promote best practice at MRFs and to create a level playing field across the sector.

“We are pleased that the regulations build on ESA’s previous work on a MRF Code of Practice to set high standards for sampling across the industry, are mandatory and will be enforced by the Environment Agency.

“The transparency requirements in the regulations will reward the commitment to quality shown by ESA members by highlighting good performing MRFs.  

“However, this is not the end of the process. ESA will now work closely with the Government and the Environment Agency, as well as local councils and reprocessors, to make sure the regulations are well implemented, and that the reported information is used effectively. The MRF Regulations are part of a broader ambition to promote high quality recycling along the entire supply chain.”

Steve Lee, Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM) chief executive

Steve Lee

“We welcome the new MRF regulations as a good starting point in the drive for higher quality. It is essential that the regulations are properly audited and enforced and during consultation, CIWM called for unannounced as well as pre-arranged inspections. We are, therefore, pleased to see that the regulators have agreed to this in principle, subject to a charging consultation to be issued later this year.

“However, the regulations fall short of providing the robust quality blueprint that some in the industry had hoped for.

“Quality underpins the value of recycling and resource management to all parties in our industry.

“CIWM is disappointed, therefore, that the Government has missed an opportunity to tie the new regulations more closely into the requirement for ‘high quality recycling’ in the Waste Framework Directive.

“These regulations have been hard fought for but they should not be the end of the process. Greater transparency and confidence are important to drive out illegal operators and poor performers and greater quality is essential to ensure that valuable recovered materials can be used to benefit the UK economy. All parties in the industry must continue to work together to achieve these goals.”

Chris Dow, chief executive of Closed Loop Recycling

Chris Dow

“The UK recycling industry and the wider UK economy has so much to gain from a regulatory system designed to improve the quality of material that feeds into reprocessors such as ourselves. 

“Such a system, which is built upon transparency and regular reporting, should provide an enormous opportunity for the whole waste and recycling industry to work in partnership to really close the loop on waste – the backbone of the circular economy. 

“Today’s announcement is a step in the right direction, although we’d still like to see it go further in helping us and our industry partners develop a sustainable business model where we can ensure that the UK is the recycling powerhouse of Europe.”

Paul Barrington-King and David Brazier Kent Resource Partnership (KRP) chair and vice-chair

“The KRP welcomes the introduction of the MRF regulations and supports effective enforcement by the regulatory authorities in all nations of the UK. 

“Many of the scheme characteristics we called for at the time of the Defra consultation have been adopted in the regulations and the accompanying sampling guidance. This includes transparency of published information about MRF quality of recyclates sent to reprocessors.   

“As all new regulations need a period of actual delivery on the ground to test rigour and ‘fitness for purpose’, we’ll be watching with interest to see how things go from all perspectives of the supply chain.”

Jonathan Short, deputy chair and founder of ECO Plastics

Jonathan Short

“We are pleased that the Government has understood the importance of tackling the declining quality of the UK’s waste stream and introduced a compulsory Code of Practice, and that the system will be actively policed by the Environment Agency. Full transparency through the publication of testing results is another important step that will pay dividends in increasing industry confidence.

“That said regulations are only as valuable as the inspection process used to enforce them, and the sampling quantities and frequency of testing envisioned is a long way below what is needed to come close to robustly measuring the quality of inputs and outputs.

“There is a very real concern that MRFs that do not wish to comply will be able to flout the rules because of the extent to which the process has been watered down.”

Andy Moore, managing director of UK Recyclate

“These regulations seem to be little more than an attempt to provide legal cover for the poor quality of recyclable material that comes out of most MRFs. Without effective implementation, it will be too easy for rogue operators to game the system and pull wool over the eyes of the Environment Agency. 

“The input and output sampling levels and their frequency are disappointing. To ensure that there is any meaning attached to them, the sampling must be backed by robust inspections, including unannounced visits by the Environment Agency. Only this can provide confidence to the marketplace that MRFs are really producing high quality recycling. If those operating comingled collections believe that they do achieve this, then they should be prepared to back such an approach.

“Sadly I fear the government will not have the courage to do this, and instead of making a real difference to the economy and environment by driving up quality, these regulations are no more than an attempt to plaster over a crack in a key aspect of the UK implementation of rWFD.

“Without genuine transparency there is no way the government can claim that MRFs achieve the goals of high-quality recycling. This should be a real concern to waste companies and councils that wish to fulfil the legal requirements as intended in the revised Waste Framework Directive.”

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