MRF contamination levels now resulting in ‘crippling’ costs

Tighter regulations for the outputs of materials recycling facilities (MRFs) are essential if cost burdens on UK reprocessors and manufacturers are to be eased, new research suggests.

The levels of poor and inconsistent quality recyclate coming out of British MRFs is a growing cause for concern, according to findings from the Costs of contamination report 2012, released by the Resource Association yesterday.

The study puts the cost of managing these under-par outputs at over £51m a year, which represents an average of £15.67 per tonne for over 3m tonnes of reprocessing capacity featured in the survey.

Nine reprocessors participated in the research, collectively representing around half of all the UK reprocessing capacity that exists for paper and card, plastics, aluminium and glass.

Respondents were asked to submit detailed data on costs associated with input of recyclate to their manufacturing processes, and relate this to operational contamination levels.

The study pointed out that while the burden of these contamination costs were being absorbed by the reprocessing sector, it warned that it was also acting as a significant barrier to future infrastructure investments.

“Indicative figures from our plastics reprocessors suggest that investment equivalent to a year’s costs of contamination (£51M minimum) could createe up to 700 direct and supply chain jobs and support the government’s ambitious plastics packaging recycling targets,” it stated.

In response, the Resource Association has called for “a fresh look” at the entire municipal recycling supply chain, which must include a mandatory MRF code of practice.

It also said that more research by government and its agencies was needed to understand better the relationship between waste collection systems, public behaviour and contamination of recyclate.

Commenting on the findings, chief executive Ray Georgeson said: “The drive for quantity has come in part at the expense of quality, and what might be seen as the delivery of cost savings at the collection end of recycling appears simply to be shifting costs into the manufacturing end of recycling.

“We question how long must the UK reprocessing sector carry this burden.”

Maxine Perella

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