The Government does not want quality standards in a statutory Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) code of practice it has been revealed.
A Defra official said the code the department will recommend for consultation will not include any rules on acceptable levels of recycled material contamination.
Speaking in Parliament to a meeting of the Associate Parliamentary Sustainable Resources Group, Defra’s director of waste policy Dr Colin Church said the code would aim to address the problems of lack of information in the market by setting up an industry-wide quality testing method for MRF inputs and outputs.
“What it will not do”, he added, “is suggest setting quality standards. We don’t think that is something we should be doing”.
He said there was an “intrinsic problem” with trying to set mandatory standards for all the various materials coming out of MRFs, and that officials would not be able not keep up with developments in the industry
“If we go through a legislative process, have you any idea how long it takes to update those things?” he said. “Have you any idea how many years behind the curve we would be all the time? It just could not be done in a sensible mandatory way.”
Although widely expected, the announcement is likely to anger reprocessors who will see it as a victory for MRF operators and waste firms and a failure by Government to take seriously their concerns over poor quality material.
Church revealed the proposed code would include:
- Sampling and composition test inputs and main outputs (paper, metals, plastics and glass).
- Record keeping for three years.
- Results sent to regulator every three months.
- Independent auditing.
- Would cover all MRFs subject to environment permit regulations.
Director of Viridor Resource Management Herman van der Meij, backed Defra’s position on the MRF code. He said while recyclate quality was of “the utmost importance”, there could never be a single, fixed standard. There would always have to be agreed tolerance of certain contamination levels, he added.
Simon Barnes, business development director at packaging firm DS Smith, called for a “supply chain approach” to quality. While backing the MRF code, Barnes said focusing on one element of the supply chain would not be enough. And he warned there was a lack of trust, a lack of clear commercial arrangements and a lack of quality specifications that posed a significant risk to the sector.
Chris Dow, CEO of Closed Loop Recycling said the MRF code and PRN reform had the potential to “revolutionise the British recycling industry and create the thousands of jobs that come with such growth”.
Church said the QAP would include:
- Voluntary system for dry recyclate quality.
- Possible enhanced enforcement of EU waste shipment regulations.
- Explore amendments to the packaging regulations to “ensure a level playing field between PRNs and PERNs”.
- Statutory guidance of the separate collection requirement of the EU revised waste framework directive.
The long-awaited MRF code and quality action plan (QAP) consultation have now been approved by the new resource management minister Lord de Mauley, Church said, and would be published following further internal approval.
The consultation was originally scheduled for August and was then delayed until September.