Quarterly data measuring the input and output tonnages at materials recycling facilities (MRFs) across England and Wales has been published for the first time today (July 16) by the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP).
The data, which has been produced for the months October to December 2014, is the first set published under new sampling and reporting obligations for MRF operators receiving more than 1,000 tonnes of mixed waste each year (see letsrecycle.com story).
First launched in February 2013, the MRF Code of Practice obligations aim to bring ‘more transparency’ to the sorting and recycling of household waste in England and Wales.
However, WRAP has warned that users should ‘observe caution’ when attempting to draw conclusions from the data, as the initial figures suggest ‘some inconsistency’ in reporting which the regulators are still resolving.
The data offers an insight into the quality of materials received at the MRFs and their output, with WRAP suggesting the market will be able to obtain a ‘greater understanding’ of recycling quality.
WRAP states: “Data quality is expected to improve over the coming quarters as interpretation of the requirements and measurement methods are refined. In addition, The Regulator has now begun their programme of enforcement inspections of each site, which should also help with improving the quality and consistency of sampling and data provided.”
In total, 90 MRFs in England notified the Environment Agency in accordance with the regulations, with 86 submitting a data return for the fourth quarter of 2014. In Wales, nine MRFs notified Natural Resources Wales and eight submitted data.
The waste supplied to the 86 responding MRFs in England could be attributed directly to 195 councils and 168 other suppliers, according to the data – with 789,395 tonnes of material entering the facilities in Q4.
Of this, a weight-based average of 86.6% was target material; with paper accounting for 51.7%, plastics 12.9%, metals 5.9%, and glass 15.9%.
Total output at the English MRFs was 582,107 tonnes, based on a total of 14,339 samples totalling 570 tonnes. The average percentage of target material in the outputs was 92% or higher across the four specified materials, with paper the least variable (95.3% – 99%) and the most variable for plastic (89.1% – 97.9%).
Of the eight MRFs that submitted data in Wales, the data recorded 63,128 tonnes of total material input across the quarter, with the average percentage of target material received at 90.6%.
Paper accounted for 56.3% of input material, plastics 10.7%, metals 5.1% and glass 18%. Just under 10% of materials received were non-target or non-recyclable.
The data commentary notes that total output in Wales stood at 57,243 tonnes with average percentage of target material in the outputs at 84% or higher. It does not provide the variables within specific material streams due to the ‘smaller number of facilities’ compared to England making the data ‘less meaningful’.
Like WRAP, the Environmental Services Association (ESA)’s recycling policy advisor, Jakob Rindegren, also urged caution when interpreting the data and comparing MRFs based solely on the first quarter. He added the Agency would now investigate sites receiving 1,000 tonnes of waste or more that had not notified the regulator.
He said: “It is great to see that the first set of data from the MRF Regulations has been published. It has been a lot of work to get to this point, but we are still only in the beginning of a learning process. A word of caution is therefore needed for anyone trying to draw conclusions from such a limited data set – it will take a number of quarters before much can be said about the data.
“However, it is important that all sites that should be covered by the regulations are fully compliant. We expect the EA, as soon as possible, to investigate all sites that they thought would notify but for some reason or another didn’t. This is something ESA will monitor closely. We also join the Resource Association in calling on all MRF operators falling within the scope of the Regulations that have not yet notified, or submitted their data, to do so.”
While welcoming publication of the MRF data, the Resource Association also suggested that little could be drawn from just one quarter’s results, with a ‘potentially significant’ number of MRFs having not supplied any data.
Chief executive of the Resource Association, Ray Georgeson, commented: “We recognise that Defra, the Environment Agency and WRAP have worked very hard to establish processes from scratch to implement the new MF Regulations and they are to be congratulated on a good start with good engagement with all key stakeholders in the effective delivery of the Regulations.
“Clearly, no grand conclusions should be taken from one quarter’s worth of data, especially when the early stages of implementation have meant that potentially a significant number of MRF’s haven’t in fact supplied data and become compliant. We know that strenuous efforts are being made to rectify this and we join with the Environmental Services Association in an open call to all MRF operators that have so far failed to submit data under the MF Regulations to act quickly in the interests of the whole industry to demonstrate compliance and ensure that the objectives of the Regulations – to improve transparency and market knowledge about the quality of input and output from MRFs – is delivered successfully.”