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Mind the gap: differences between MRF codes in Scotland and England

The first reporting period of the Scottish Materials Recovery Facilities’ (MRF) Code of Practice commenced this month, introducing requirements to report on material quality.

Those MRFs that qualify have a waste management licence or pollution prevention control permit for the operation of a MRF, receive more than 1,000 tonnes of mixed or separately collected dry recyclable waste in any reporting year. Operators must notify the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) by the end of each reporting period if they believe the code applies to them.

These new requirements are broadly similar to those introduced in England and Wales in October 2014, under Schedule 9A of the revised Environmental Permitting Regulations, but the Scottish code has introduced some significant additional requirements.

Perhaps of greatest interest is the additional requirement to report end or next destinations for each material output stream, including the material’s use. Despite the fact that such information shall be kept confidential and shared only with Scottish Government and Zero Waste Scotland, some concerns have already been raised by affected facilities about the commercially sensitive nature of the information, questioning what it may be used for. 

This additional requirement demonstrates clearly Scotland’s commitment to its Zero Waste Plan and its strategic direction to “take action to increase the quantity and quality of resources recycled, with the aim of achieving high levels of “closed loop” resource management.” 

It may be that the additional time Scotland has taken to draft this code, some 12 months after the launch in England and Wales, has allowed it to build on the requirements set out in Schedule 9A, closely linking it with the ambitions of the Zero Waste Plan. 

In assessing how Sepa has approached the enforcement of the new code, it would do well to heed lessons from the challenges faced by the Environment Agency (EA).  The EA stated it intended to take a “light touch” approach to enforcing the new requirements of the Environmental Permitting Regulations, utilising existing resources.

There is now concern in England about the level of compliance: industry data shows that there are between 120 and 160 MRFs but only a half to two-thirds of these have submitted data. Perhaps the Environment Agency needs to be taking a harder line. The recent second set of data from the English and Welsh Regulations showing that even fewer facilities have reported than in the previous period. Formal EA inspections commenced this summer and perhaps this will shed some light on why such a large number of facilities seem to be non-compliant.

Sepa is planning to adopt a proactive approach to identifying facilities which may be in scope, and it is understood that all MRF permit or licence holders have already been contacted to inform them of their new duties under the Code of Practice. A key difference between the two pieces of legislation is that the Scottish MRF code also covers material which is separately collected. This additional data could thus provide valuable insight into the quality of separately collected material, compared to MRF output material.

The Waste (Scotland) Regulations 2012 require separate collections to be implemented unless the local authority “considers that the amount of material recycled from such waste in its area will not be significantly less, and the quality of the material recycled will not be significantly lower.” In addition, Scotland’s Zero Waste Plan sets out the target of separate collections of dry recyclables by 2013, and as a result, the trend is away from commingled collections; although there are some exceptions, for example Aberdeen City Council. 

The new data will hopefully give Scottish authorities and Zero Waste Scotland some evidence relating to the quality of material local authorities with commingled collections are collecting, and determine whether it represents “significantly lower” quality than source-separated material. We will probably have to wait a further 18 months before we can draw any firm conclusions from the data collected. However, it represents the first key step towards delivering transparency on Scottish MRF material quality and product end uses.

Key differences:

  • SC: applies to material that is separately collected, if the site is a MRF licence or permit holder
  • SC: lists card as an additional material which needs to be sampled and reported on
  • SC: permits the collection of a series of smaller samples taken at the same time
  • SC: additional requirement to record rejected loads and their destinations
  • SC: additional requirement to report end or next destinations for each material output stream, including the material’s use
  • EC: stipulates that waste either originates from households or similar sources
  • Minimum overall sample sizes differ: Scotland requires 60kg and England and Wales 55kg
  • WRAP manages data on behalf of Natural Resources Wales and the Environment Agency whereas Scottish Environment Protection Agency manages the data directly

Victoria Hutchin, senior consultant, Ricardo Energy & Environment

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