Industry needs to recover more value from MRFs by driving up quality levels

Materials recovery facilities (MRFs) should develop as "value factories" to ensure that recovered materials achieve their maximum value, according to a report from the Waste Resources & Action Programme (WRAP).

The report, Recovering value from MRFs, said that while there is a need for more MRF capacity in the UK, future facilities need to be “of the right sort, in the right place, and capable of delivering quality materials that meet end market requirements.”

The recovered paper sector was singled out for particular criticism. The report said MRFs that “negatively sort” paper – by allowing it to run off the end of the conveyor belt after other materials should have been extracted – have experienced quality-related problems when the materials have been shipped to UK paper mills.

“MRFs in the UK frequently appear to be guided by rather broad specifications which vary for individual reprocessors, and which appear to have fairly ad-hoc enforcement arrangements,” it stated.

The report recommended that paper reprocessors should publicise their paper specifications better, and implement “standard” testing procedures to determine the quality of incoming materials. It also suggested that a “continuous feedback system” be implemented to advise MRFs of the quality of materials received during any given month.

The study also looked at contamination issues, and said that MRF operators should “strive to minimise” residues which are “expensive to collect, process and dispose of”.

This could be achieved by auditing incoming recyclables to identify levels and types of contamination, and by working directly with collection authorities to reduce contamination levels. Differential gate fees could also be applied to reward those authorities whose collections contain lower levels.

Recovery rates and quality standards are also being hampered by some contractual arrangements between MRF operators and local authorities which don’t include incentives or performance criteria. The report recommended that contracts with MRFs should specify an acceptable maximum level of process residue.

It stated: “Efficient MRFs appear to operate within the range 2% to 5% residue. Processing efficiency targets can therefore be based on the percentage of input material processed, with financial deductions and bonuses for performance below or above the agreed efficiency rate.”

Alternatively, the report suggested that local authorities could be fined an excess charge – around £90 per tonne – for materials rejected during the processing phase.

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