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Revealed: MRF code of practice details

Defra has presented plans for its much-vaunted materials recovery facilities code of practice to key stakeholders, MRW has learned.

Minutes from a Defra-hosted meeting, seen by MRW, reveal for the first time the department’s in-depth thinking on the code – which will have substantial ramifications across the industry.

The code is aimed at increasing client confidence in the quality of materials leaving MRFs, a key issue since the Government published proposed amendments to the waste regulations that would allow commingled collections to continue in some circumstances.

But notes from the meeting held on 27 April and attended by nearly 30 senior industry figures show key decisions surrounding inspection standards remain up for grabs while ministers are considering a less strenuous regime for proven high performers.

Other key points from the notes from the meeting include:

  • Defra plans to consult on the code in August with a view to laying legislation before Parliament by 2013 and bringing laws into force in April 2014.
  • Defra wants the code to be mandatory to ensure “a level playing field, scale of uptake [and] certainty of uptake”.
  • A pilot scheme has been floated, although the Environmental Services Association told MRW it was against this.  
  • Defra is set to convene a working group to go through issues surrounding sampling sizes and frequencies. Sources told MRW this would prove a “thorny issue which would be hard to get agreement on”.
  • Defra said it wanted to “amend the term ‘contamination’ to ‘non target’ to avoid negative connotations in [communications] with householders and reflect an ability to recycle an increasing range of materials”.
  • A Defra presentation said the department was “considering various options for defining sampling frequency…[including the] potential to allow reduced sampling frequency once consistency of output has been demonstrated”.

Senior figures praised Defra’s level of engagement with the sector.

But sources told MRW the meeting laid bare the amount of ground officials needed to cover before plans can be ready for consultation later this summer.

As well as issues surrounding how often and how arduous sampling will be, consensus is yet to be agreed on fundamental questions such as defining what facilities should be classified as MRFs.  

Waste expert and former Veolia deputy chief executive Paul Levett told MRW: “We asked for a good consultation with industry experts and I am encouraged by what Defra have done so far.”

The Environmental Services Association (ESA) told MRW that the Government must not “dictate” terms of trade as a result of the Code.

ESA policy adviser on materials recovery, David Sher, said: “We want to give the market the opportunity to decide what is fair, equipped with good information.

“It is not for ESA or the Government to dictate the terms on which all trades take place.”

The new guidelines could also hand the Environment Agency fresh ammunition to clamp down on illegal exporters. See for more.

Readers' comments (2)

  • This suggests there is still a fundamental problem to be resolved. Defra needs this code of practice to demonstrate that commingling can produce high quality recycling of an equivalent standard to separate collections. The ESA still seem to want "high quality" to mean whatever quality they can find a market for. Or am I reading too much into David Sher's words?
    The timing is also problematic. The Government has to return to the High Court to resolve the Judicial Review in June before they have firm proposals in the public domain.

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  • From: Vikki Jackson Smith, Managing Director J & B Recycling, Hartlepool (added by MRW's associate editor)

    Defra’s plans for a Code of Practice for Materials Recycling Facilities should be welcomed – but with caution.

    As a MRF operator, we have no problem selling our outputs including paper from sorting of comingled inputs as we prefer glass to be keep separate as an input. If the infrastructure is right, then inputs suit your process and you strive to strike the right balance between productivity, quality and value.

    Re-processors have a major part to play too. When markets are buoyant and prices are high then there’s a tendency for quality to be ignored. But when values are low, quality is key. When market conditions are favourable and re-processors are scrambling for material, they should have the courage of conviction not to buy poor quality material, thereby helping to deter less reputable operators.

    Therefore, on balance, the Code of Practice can be welcomed as long as it leads to a level playing field and should certainly be introduced as a compulsory measure for all including the third sector.

    But again, it’s yet another hit on already tight margins as major costs such as insurance, electricity and fuel continue to rise, particularly for SME operators such as ourselves who don’t have the resources of the multinationals.

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