Milton Keynes and Viridor celebrated the 20th anniversary of the borough’s MRF this month. Carolyn Londer-Ward and Victor Perez-Mares look back at its life so far
Milton Keynes’ MRF was the first purpose-built facility of its type in the UK when it opened on 15 November 1993. Its opening came just a year after the council became the first in the country to roll out a borough-wide door-to-door recycling scheme to 75,000 properties.
Twenty years on it is still at the forefront of recycling technology, capable of processing 150 tonnes of commingled household recyclables every day. In this time, Milton Keynes has seen its recycling rate climb from 12% to 53.5%.
The authority’s initial recycling scheme comprised of paper collected in red boxes with a white lid; and glass, cans and plastic bottles going into a blue box. These were collected on alternate weeks and their contents separated at kerbside.
Having seen sorting plants in France and the US, the authority saw what could be achieved through automation and gained approval to build the MRF in the industrial area of Old Wolverton. Designed in-house, the facility ran a two-line sorting system: one for paper and the other for cans and plastics. Glass was collected separately, as it is today.
In the late 1990s, the first auto-sorting equipment in the country for plastics was installed at the plant, introducing infrared equipment to separate PET and HDPE bottles and other containers. The early 2000s saw more change, when the first ‘one-pass’ vehicles for waste and recycling were introduced and the box scheme was replaced with the recycling scheme used today. Pink sacks were introduced for dry recyclables (paper, cardboard, cans and plastic bottles); a blue box used for glass; and black sacks for residual waste. A bag splitter was installed to allow the contents of the pink sacks to be sorted and the sacks themselves recycled.
Unfortunately, disaster struck in 2005 when a major fire destroyed most of the machinery and part of the roof. For the next year all materials had to be transferred to Peterborough’s MRF while the Milton Keynes facility was cleaned and refitted. The council rebuilt and upgraded the facility using the state-of-the-art machinery still in use today. Its two-line conveyor was replaced with a single conveyor for the commingled recycling, bringing additional efficiencies.
Over the years, the MRF has been used as an example of innovation and best-practice, hosting visitors from UK and abroad. Andy Hudson, Milton Keynes council head of environment and waste says: “Here in Milton Keynes we’ve always been at the forefront of recycling development and having our own purpose-built MRF has played an integral role in our success.
“The success of a good MRF is based on having good quality materials, a good quality facility and a good quality operator.”
Viridor uses the Milton Keynes MRF to process commingled recycling collected from over 105,000 homes, most schools and some businesses in Milton Keynes, as well as from neighbouring authorities.
Graham Warren, Viridor regional operations director adds: “Our industry has transformed itself and the way resources are recovered from what households and businesses throw away. Success in Milton Keynes is the result of being visionaries and striving for leadership – principles shared by us.”
Continuing to lead the way, Milton Keynes’ MRF will become part of the MK Waste Recovery Park from 2016, which will include a new depot for waste collection vehicles and its ground-breaking residual waste treatment facility. It wants to achieve 70% recycling by 2025.
Carolyn Londer-Ward is communications officer at Milton Keynes Council and Victor Perez-Mares is senior communications manager at Viridor