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How to future-proof MRFs

Keith Freegard offers some advice on how operators can future-proof their MRFs to keep quality levels high and maximise returns

Incorporating future-proof design concepts into the layout and operating principles of new MRFs is vital if managers are to improve quality and maximise profits from their multi-million pound investments.

Planning for expansion, predicting likely changes in feed composition and installing good management information systems are essential elements for ensuring a MRF can meet future waste management and processing challenges.

Through efficient process design, a MRF can respond flexibly to future changes of the specification and mix of infeed materials, as waste composition changes quite rapidly over time.

Product quality is a key issue, especially the paper recycling industry. With most paper collected via kerbside commingled systems, there’s much greater pressure on primary sorting MRF operators to keep other waste materials, such as plastics, out of their paper product streams to ensure high quality output and value for the processing mills.

MRF Checklist

  • Know, interrogate and analyse infeed sources
  • Conduct accurate and meaningful sampling of waste streams
  • Process design – plan for flexibility
  • Leave space for future layout expansion
  • Mass Balance is a key business tool
  • Run trials – and measure their performance
  • Get the right skills mix in the team
  • Welcome new technology developments

So how do you make a recycling plant work better? Clever and efficient design from the outset enables a process plant to take account of the specification and mix of waste materials changing over time.

Building in expansion space for additional units in the future, such as longer and wider conveyors with enough room to add extra sorting systems, means you don’t have to completely change your plant layout, which incurs more cost and expensive downtime.

Take time to really study and know the infeed, for this is the lifeblood of your entire operation. What is its true composition and by how much does this vary?

In-depth analysis of infeed material composition and future trends will aid plant design and layout, and help to plan for and cope with future challenges, such as increased complexity of waste products and more material types being collected for sorting.

Getting the right people and skills mix in the team is also crucial for success. Excellent process management systems are vital in MRFs; if you have a multi-million pound investment in a complex sorting process it’s no good asking personnel who used to run the landfill site to operate it.

Train them in the most effective ways of monitoring, managing and controlling complex process plant. We are now in a new era where qualified process engineers need to be designing and operating technically-advanced materials resource recovery plants, not just ‘handling waste’.

While many challenges lie ahead, the waste management and recovery sector continues to evolve and present new solutions that offer exciting opportunities; such as developments in sensor-based sorting and package ‘markers’ for special sorting that are contributing to improved handling of materials.

Encouragingly, new markets continue to emerge. For example, we are seeing more end-use options for unsorted residues, such as mixed plastics, and increased drivers for brand producers to use recycled content. Consumers’ greener attitudes are also helping to drive demand for sustainably-produced new goods.

Big process plants must be designed for flexibility and need proper management. New technological developments should be welcomed – you will need them one day.

Keith Freegard is a director at resource recovery consultant, Axion Consulting

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