Operation MRF: upping the quality

At the heart of WRAP's new business plan is a commitment to work with MRF operators and continue to improve material quality. Steve Waite explains more

Quality levels remain paramount for recovered materials

Quality levels remain paramount for recovered materials

Quality is the name of the game when it comes to inputs and outputs at materials recycling facilities (MRFs). That's why WRAP's focus has been on helping municipal and commercial and industrial MRFs to consistently deliver high-quality materials to the marketplace.

To do this, materials have to be effectively separated to meet customer requirements and also comply with national regulations and policies. Only through the collection of quality materials from a residence or business can the high standard of material be maintained all the way through to the final sorted products that leave MRFs for their UK and overseas customers.

WRAP's research in 2009 found a significant opportunity for improvement in MRF performance at that time, despite some facilities demonstrating consistently high-quality outputs. After working with the waste management industry to continue to improve the quality of materials recovered from UK MRFs, considerable progress has and is being made.

The introduction of the industry-led code of practice will be another significant step towards improving MRF output quality. The code, which is being led by the Environmental Services Association (ESA) and is supported by WRAP and the Environment Agency, aims to introduce requirements for MRFs in relation to quality management, exports and the integrity of markets.

This will drive up material quality because local authorities and reprocessors will have access to the testing results and are likely to want to engage with the better performing MRFs. Poorer performing MRFs will need to lower the non-target/contamination levels in their material outputs in order to compete.

As part of its recently launched business plan, WRAP is building on previous work with MRF operators to continue to drive up standards. All of this has led to the launch of a series of tools and reports. They include a municipal MRFs materials export study which identifies good practice that MRF operators can take to ensure that their material outputs are exported legally to facilities undertaking environmentally sound recovery.

In addition, a MRFs contracts guide provides a summary of some of the fundamental information that needs to be considered when developing a MRF contract. The report gives local authorities information that helps them select the better MRFs when tendering for contracts. It also increases the local authorities' confidence that the material they collect is being responsibly sorted, and provides a means for them to find out the end destination of the materials.

A quality tool is available that allows MRF operators to enter their own performance data, in confidence, and receive a generic commentary regarding their relative position in the quality hierarchy. The commentary suggests areas for material quality improvement that can be utilised by MRF operators.

Lastly, WRAP's annual Gate Fees report presents a summary of gate fees charged for a range of waste treatment, recovery and disposal options. The information in the report can be used by local authorities to inform their decisions regarding waste management options.

Steve Waite is sector specialist at WRAP

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