Defra launches MRF sampling guidance

The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) has released guidance for operators of materials recovery facilities (MRFs) to help them comply with the sampling requirements in the new MRF Regulations (also know as the Code of Practice (MRF CoP).

From 1 October 2014, MRFs processing more than 1,000 tonnes of mixed waste per annum will have to test the composition of samples of the material they put into the sorting process, and the useable output, and report them to the Environment Agency (for MRFs in England) or Natural Resources Wales (for MRFs in Wales).

It is hoped that by providing 'robust' data on MRF inputs and outputs, the UK could improve recyclate quality.

The guidance details ‘when, how and what should be recorded by these facilities’ to fulfil the regulations, however, the document does not specify what methodology should be used to gather this information.

Guidance details

According to the five-page document, ‘mixed waste’ is classified as ‘household waste or waste that is similar to household waste, in that it contains at least 50 per cent by weight of two or more of the following: glass; metal; paper; and plastic’.

Input materials

It specifies that for incoming mixed waste material, reprocessors must take a minimum sample average of 60 kilogrammes (kg) for every 160 tonnes (t) received from each supplier.

This must be done for two years from 1 October 2014 to 30 September 2016.

From 1 October 2016, samples must be taken for every 125t received. However, mixed waste inputs transferred to another MRF for separation will not need to be sampled.

Operators will need to report the following information for incoming mixed waste material in each reporting period:

  • the total weight in tonnes of mixed waste material received;
  • the total number of samples taken ;
  • the total weight in kilogrammes of all samples taken;
  • the average percentage composition of target glass, metal, paper and plastic in the samples;
  • the standard deviation of the average percentage composition of target materials in the samples; and
  • the average percentage composition levels of target materials, non-target material and non-recyclable materials in the samples.

Output materials

For output materials, the minimum sample weights are:

  • glass 10kg;
  • metals 10kg;
  • paper 50kg; and
  • plastic 20kg

The sampling frequency depends on the material:

  • for glass, it should be 10kg for every 50t produced;
  • for metals, 10kg for every 20t
  • for paper, 50kg for every 80t (increasing to 50kg for every 60t from 1 October 2016); and
  • for plastic, 20kg for every 20t (rising to 20kg for every 15t from 1 October 2016).

MRF operators will need to report the following information on outputs for each reporting period:

  • the total weight in tonnes of the specified output material that leaves the MRF, as a minimum identified by grade of glass, metal, paper or plastic;
  • the total weight in tonnes of mixed waste material sent to other MRFs to be separated into specified output materials, and the names of these facilities;
  • the total weight in tonnes of residual (all other) waste that leaves the MRF, and details of where it has been sent;
  • the total number of samples taken for each specified output material (glass, metal, paper or plastic);
  • the total weight in kg of all samples taken for each specified output material, as a minimum identified by grade of glass, plastic, metal or paper;
  • the average percentage of target materials, non-target materials and non-recyclable materials by grades of glass, metal, paper or plastic in the samples;
  • the average percentage of all samples by reference to grades of glass, metal, paper and plastic; and
  • the standard deviation of the average percentage composition levels for the target materials found in all the samples.

Record keeping

Further to taking samples, MRF operators will also need to information for each reporting period for ‘at least four years from the date it was recorded’.

Records must be submitted electronically to the relevant regulator by the following dates:

  • 31 January 2015 for the first reporting period (1 October 2014-31 December 2014), and for all yearly reports on the same period thereafter;
  • 30 April for yearly reports on the period running 1 January to 31 March;
  • 31 July for yearly reports on the period 1 April to 30 June; and
  • 31 October for yearly reports on the period 1 July to 30 September.

All MRFs falling under the regulations will be inspected ‘at least twice a year’ (once unannounced) to review the way samples and reporting are undertaken.

WRAP is also set to release its own MRF Regulation guidance, expected for publication in April.

Speaking of the guidance, a spokesperson for environmental consultancy Resource Futures, said: "The guidance reproduces the reporting requirements that facilities will have to carryout. The benefit to the whole supply chain will be in robust sampling and testing protocols being followed in order that information on material flows and quality issues can be better understood. To this end we look forward to reading the sampling guidance document that will be published in support of the COP."

Keith Freegard, Director of resource recovery specialist Axion Consulting, also commented, saying: "It has been a long and difficult journey to reach this point and the resulting sampling regime is something of a compromise. However, the next step is to take a positive look forward with a ‘glass half-full’ attitude as to how the UK’s waste sector can really benefit from this change. Crucially, that’s about good training and a detailed appreciation of the benefits which can accrue to a business that really embraces the concept of process sampling and measurement. This marks the point when what used to be output baled materials from scrap sorting plants, now become certified, high-quality products from modern Materials Resource Recovery Plants."

For MRF operators to maximise the value of their products, they must fully understand how to measure, sample and analyse them to produce accurate, factually-based reports for their customers, Keith highlighted.

He concluded: “There’s an immediate need for good training that goes beyond the basic requirements laid down in the regulations. Those companies that embrace and understand the business benefits that can arise, will think about the right type of sampling and analysis methodology needed to deliver them in their own process plants and to make their products more attractive in the marketplace.”

Axion is running three specialised courses from May to July designed to develop senior waste professionals’ knowledge of the new MRF Regulations and statistical analysis of sampling.

Read the ‘Materials facilities: how to report on mixed waste sampling’ guidance or find out more about the MRF Regulations.