Resource Use

MRF Regulations laid in Parliament

The long-awaited Materials Recovery Facility Regulations, also know as the Code of Practice (MRF CoP), have been laid in Parliament today (12 February).

Part of The Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2014, the MRF regulations are applicable from 1 October 2014 ‘to allow MRF operators sufficient time to adjust their operations and comply with the new requirements’.

The law requires operators of MRFs processing more than 1,000 tonnes per annum to test the composition of samples of the material they put into the sorting process, and the useable output.

It is hoped that the regulations will increase recyclate quality from MRFs to ‘help stimulate the market conditions necessary to improve the quality of the material produced by MRFs so that it can be more readily recycled’, as required under the European revised Waste Framework Directive. 

Indeed, according to the professional advocacy body for the reprocessing and recycling industries, the Resource Association, contamination at MRFs costs the UK £51 million a year.

Regulation details

Under the regulations, MRF operators must take samples of the mixed waste material received at their facility from each supplier during each reporting period (except where that material is to be transferred to another materials facility for the purpose of separating it into specified output material), and measure the composition of those samples. All reports must be submitted online.

Reporting periods run from:

  • 1 January to 31 March;
  • 1 April to 30 June,
  • 1 July to 30 September,
  • 1 October to 31 December;

Specifically, one sample must be taken for every 160 tonnes of mixed waste material received at the materials facility from each supplier during each reporting period before 1st October 2016, rising to one sample per every 125 tonnes on or after that date. Material specifications of each sample must also be listed.

Samples must also be taken of the output streams for target materials when they reach a certain level of throughput. Before 1 October 2016, the tonnages are as follows:

  • Glass: 50 tonnes
  • Paper: 80 tonnes
  • Metal: 20 tonnes
  • Plastic: 20 tonnes

After this date, paper samples drop to once every 60 tonnes and plastic to 15 tonnes, while metal and glass sampling obligations remain the same.

The total weight of all the samples taken must provide an average weight of 60 kilogrammes or more per sample (and no less than 55 kilogrammes).

Due to concerns from waste management companies that sampling residual waste could be a health and safety risk, there will be no sampling of residual waste required.

MRF operators will also be required to measure the total weight in tonnes of all other waste material that leaves the facility in each reporting period. All MRFs will also be liable to inspections by the Environment Agency in regards to their compliance, but the frequency of these inspections is not mentioned in the regulations.

Government response

In the government response to the consultation on the CoP, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) outlined that smaller MRFs have been excluded from the regulations as they ‘account for about one per cent of the tonnage of dry recyclates handled by MRFs in England and Wales; [and thus] it is not proportionate to include these facilities in the scope of the regulations’.

Interestingly, Defra acknowledged that due to the regulations (and their requirement for better, more accurate information on contamination levels), there could be a ‘small drop’ in reported recycling rates in the short term. But it said that ‘robust and transparent information on quality is important to maintain the long-term viability of recycling’.

It suggested that the net benefits of the regulations could be £25.3 million over 10 years.

Defra will soon publish guidance to MRF operators on the sampling requirements.

Read the MRF Regulations.