Defra lays MRF Code regulations

By Will Date

Defra has laid the final version of the regulations for the materials recycling facility (MRF) Code of Practice for England and Wales, which will come into effect this autumn.

The regulations will require all permitted MRFs processing more than 1,000 tonnes of dry recyclate per annum to measure and report the quality of the input, output and residual waste streams every three months.

The sampling and reporting requirements will come into effect from October this year
The sampling and reporting requirements will come into effect from October this year

The Code has been incorporated into the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations, under amendments coming into force from March. However, the sampling and reporting requirements will only apply from October 2014 to allow MRF operators sufficient time to adjust their operations and comply with the new requirements.

Defra has opted not to make the code mandatory for all MRFs, despite concerns being raised that a minimum threshold level of 1,000 tonnes could see smaller MRFs undercut larger operators (see story).

Meanwhile, Defra has also decided not to set a minimum quality standard for the material produced at MRFs instead allowing the market to determine what standards are required and to make the system more flexible.

Reporting periods will run from:

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


The regulations state that MRF operators must measure the total weight in tonnes of any mixed waste material received at a facility, during each quarter. They must then take samples of material from each supplier and measure the composition of the material.


This is intended to boost confidence in the quality of material produced at MRFs as Defra claims that monitoring the results of the MRF regulations by grading outputs according to their quality would bring a range of benefits to buyers and sellers of recyclate.

Samples must be taken for every 160 tonnes of mixed metal, glass, paper and plastic material received before October 2016, dropping to 125 tonnes after that date with an average weight of 60 kgs per sample.

Operators must also then take samples of material coming out of the facility and measure the composition of those samples identifying the target and non target material contained within the sample.

Output samples must be taken for every 50 tonnes of glass; 80 tonnes of paper; 20 tonnes of metal, and; 20 tonnes of plastic material produced by a MRF.


Alongside the sampling data, the regulations also require MRF operators to record details of where other waste material that leaves a facility during a reporting period is sent, all of which must be kept for a minimum of four years, and must be produced if requested by the Environment Agency during that period.

Defra has also said that it plans to develop non-statutory guidance for MRF operators to provide clarification on taking samples in a statistically representative way.

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MRF Code regulations

The initiative follows a long-running battle over collection systems and the need to demonstrate that commingled collections can produce quality comparable to that produced by kerbside sort collection systems.

It is based on an initiative developed by the Environmental Services Association (ESA), the trade association for the waste management sector in the UK.

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