Managers need to ‘future proof’ MRF design to maximise plant efficiency

Operators of materials recycling facilities (MRFs) need to incorporate 'future-proof' design concepts into the layout and operating principles of new plants if they are to improve quality and maximise profits from their investments, according to an industry expert.

Speaking to edie, Axion Consulting director Keith Freegard said that operators need to do thorough research on future waste trends and install good management information systems to help MRFs meet future waste management and processing challenges.

He added: “Quite often, the job of designing and building MRFs is given to a group of engineers. They often have constrained and tight budgets and are given an inward-looking set of tasks. You really need another person in the team who has an outward perspective and is visionary to help challenge the assumptions in the design brief and help build something flexible.”

Freegard also said that MRF operators often enter into long-term contracts with local authorities or waste management companies to deliver and build a MRF. However, he said that from the period the contract is signed to the period when it is actually built, which can sometimes take five years, the waste stream picture can change.

He said operators could talk to organisations such as the Packaging and Films Association to find out trends in packaging. He explained: “Operators could find out what waste trends will be happening in the next six years. Will some drink companies be changing some of their packs from glass to plastic? For example, you could speak to the aluminium people and find out if the thickness of aluminium tins will be changing.”

Giving his views to a group of paper recycling stakeholders at a recent conference, held in Warsaw, Poland, Freegard emphasised how clever design, precise knowledge of infeed materials and getting the right skills mix can help MRF operators to extract the most from their process plants and be ready to meet future waste management challenges.

Freegard explained: “Efficient design takes account of the specification and mix of waste materials changing over time. Building in expansion space for additional units in the future, such as longer conveyors with enough room to add extra sorting systems, means you don’t have to completely change your plant layout, which incurs more cost and expensive downtime.”

“Good management systems are vital in MRFs; if you have a multi-million pound investment and complex sorting process it’s no good asking personnel who used to run the landfill site to operate it.

“You really have to train them in proper ways of monitoring, managing and controlling plant. We are now in a ‘new era’ where qualified process engineers need to be designing and operating technically-advanced materials resource recovery plants, not just ‘handling waste’.”

Liz Gyekye


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