Get more from your MRF

Standards need to be lifted if materials recovery facilities are to fulfil their potential. Linda Crichton looks at how contracts can be strengthened to achieve this

Recent research undertaken by the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) into materials recovery facilities (MRFs) identified various ways in which material quality can be improved and residues reduced (see News, p5, LAWR February).

The overall success of a recycling programme is underpinned by the relationship between the different parties involved and it is vital to recognise that contractual arrangements between local authorities and MRF operators can be framed in a way that positively incentivises good performance.

The research found that there were opportunities for improvements in this area as contractual arrangements between MRF operators and LAs vary. Some are short-term agreements, based on gate fee payments for the quantity of input materials, but with no clauses relating to performance of the MRF or the quality of output materials.

Other contracts are more comprehensive with performance standards pertaining to a range of operational issues - for example, clauses to protect LAs against the eventuality that services and facilities are not available, and standards relating to the quality of the outputs and overall efficiency rates achieved. These might include recovery and residue thresholds, with associated bonus payments for above standard performance or penalty payments when standards are not met.

The sharing of revenues generated by the sale of sorted materials is another option addressed in some contracts, and a number of revenue sharing arrangements were identified where the authority and the operator share the benefits (and risks) of the markets. This provides a mechanism to encourage improved quality in both the collection and processing of the recyclables.

When drawing up contracts, LAs are advised to stipulate performance standards to be achieved by the company contracted to carry out the sorting process and to take a more active interest in the end markets.

Cost it out
Contracts should stipulate the cost per tonne of sorting the specified materials - often sorting costs are not clear in large integrated contracts. They should also state the minimum revenue expected to be generated from the sale of sorted materials and a plan for returning part of the revenue to the LA.

Where included, incentive mechanisms should combine to ensure that residues are minimised, material quality is maximised and rejection of materials by reprocessors is avoided.

Regular auditing or inspection of incoming deliveries of recyclables to identify levels and types of contamination and providing regular feedback to LAs is an essential step in improving the quality of co-mingled recyclables.

This can help identify problems with specific collection rounds or highlight a lack of clarity in communications with householders - issues that LA can then address through improved communications to residents or crew training.

Contamination limits and procedures for rejecting loads that do not meet the required input requirements should also be specified in contracts, which need to make clear the arrangements and responsibilities if a load is rejected on arrival at a MRF.

Typically, it will be the responsibility of the LA to make alternative arrangements and incur the costs of doing so, thus providing an incentive for that authority to manage the quality of the materials collected.

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