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MRF code consultation due following delay

Defra is poised to publish its long-awaited draft of the MRF code of practice for consultation later this month, after delaying it so that it could be rolled into a wider consultation on permitting regulations.

The document was due in August. But Defra director of waste Colin Church told MRW via Twitter that, although the consultation was ready, it would form part of “a delayed bigger consultation on Environmental Permitting Regulations, due September”.

A Defra spokesman explained that, for administrative reasons, the MRF code was being “bundled” with measures including EU environmental regulations and deregulatory measures from the Government’s Red Tape Challenge. The measures in the package will not all be waste-related.

The consultation follows months of discussions between interested parties, with opposing groups reluctant to cede ground to the others.

While recyclers and reprocessors want tighter regulation of quality standards, MRF operators and waste management firms take a more market-led approach, focusing on maximum recycling and market transparency.

MRW understands that stakeholders were told about the delay to the consultation at their last meeting at Defra in June, which was described by one source as a “shambles”.

The source said the meeting was poorly organised an lacked constructive discussion or feedback from stakeholders.

Another source said: “The Government has told stake-holders that the proposed code has to go through a formal Whitehall clearance process before the consultation can be launched.”

The MRF code aims to boost confidence in the quality of materials output from recovery facilities, and is key to the Government’s attempts to continue to allow commingled collections.

Industry expert and former Government official Philip Ward told MRW that bundling the MRF code and permitting regulations together could make sense because the code could become a permit condition. But he said there was no reason for Defra not to publish the draft on time.

  • Minutes from Defra-hosted negotiations attended by nearly 30 senior industry figures were leaked to MRW in May. The documents showed that officials were willing to consider a less strenuous regime for proven high performers.

Commentary - By Neil Roberts

The news that Defra’s consultation has been delayed seems symptomatic of a wider malaise around this issue, as does talk of a shambolic stakeholder meeting, with all sides entrenched in their positions. Mistrust appears to have set in.

Much depends on the outcome of the MRF code for the industry and beyond. The collections judicial review still hangs over the sector and the code of practice is a vital element of Defra’s strategy to allow commingling.

So it is right to ask why the consultation has been delayed, and why there is an apparent lack of urgency and a lack of solid information available to stakeholders.

Defra says the consultation will be published soon. Many hope so, and that the process can move forward to the best outcome for the industry.

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