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MRF as a manufacturing process

“Yes…this is our dream MRF,” agree Greenstar recycling director Mick Davis and group engineering manager Neil Arlett at the site of the company’s soon-to-be complete materials recycling facility in Edmonton, north London. Walking around the 175,000sq ft building, installation of the equipment is well underway by US MRF manufacturer CP and contractor Ebbsfleet Engineering.

Greenstar chose CP to supply Atlas’s equipment because of its technology, track record and willingness to work on design innovations. “On a project of this scale, we would only go with people who have a proven track record, such as CP and Bollegraaf,” explains Davis. “You are talking about a £12m-£14m investment, so you have to have that confidence.”

We wanted to make the MRF as straight as possible, so it is like a manufacturing process

So what features set Atlas apart from other MRFs? “We wanted to make the MRF as straight as possible, so it is like a manufacturing process,” Arlett replies.

Materials will be fed into the plant along straight feed lines. Those separated out for recycling will be diverted on to belts that come off these lines at right angles. This should avoid the cross-contamination of materials which can happen when different belts feed into the centre of the plant and then back out again, crossing over and under each other.

Another Atlas feature will be its dual line, with two major feeds. This means the plant will be able to continue using one line to process material while maintenance is performed on the other.  

Such features have stemmed from Greenstar’s existing operational experience.

“This is the first time tooth belt drives have been used on paper screens, for example,” Arlett says. “This was our innovation, which we took to CP and we’ve found it works very successfully.”

Atlas has improved paper screen drives that use a toothed rubber belt rather than sprocket and chain. This offers health and safety benefits because the teeth will lock the drive should the belt break. It has also fully integrated the successful glass processing unit used in its Aldridge MRF so that glass can be separated out for remelt and aggregate use.

To Davis, the company’s entire approach - seeing materials as commodities - has shaped the plant’s design.

“We see ourselves as manufacturers, not people who run MRFs,” he says. “We are conscious that the quality of output is everything, and to be able to achieve quality, we expect to design and adapt our plant accordingly.

We understand that we are dealing with commodities, and we look at the value we get from commodities rather than the gate fee

“We understand that we are dealing with commodities, and we look at the value we get from commodities rather than the gate fee. The idea behind having a big facility is that you get economies of scale and if you rely on commodity sales, then the quality improves.”

Licensed to handle 250,000 tonnes a year, Davis says that Atlas can cope with any combination of paper, card, glass and plastic, including food trays and film: in other words, dry recyclables from any collection system. Its plastics will eventually feed into the Greenstar WES plant, recently awarded a WRAP grant to build a mixed non-bottle plastics recycling plant by 2011.

Material has already been secured from the North London Waste Authority and Enfield Council, with other contracts “ready to come in”. Davis expects the split of material from local authority and commercial sources to be about 70/30, and the 250,000 tonnes waste transfer facility on the same site should help the plant with flexibility on the materials it takes in.

As for any further Greenstar MRFs in the pipeline, Davis says the company is evaluating its options. Its planned south Oxfordshire MRF is progressing, and potential upgrades to other Greenstar sites are being considered, as are “opportunities” for another ‘super MRF’.

“We’ve not ventured into Scotland, the north east or Wales, so there are still large areas for us to be looking at,” Davis says. And with plans to grow the business in the next two to three years, these areas could well be part of Greenstar’s expansion strategy.

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