10 July 2020 by Joshua Doherty

Hampshire changes tack and rejects £34m MRF

Hampshire county council has opted against the idea of building a state-of-the-art Materials Recycling Facility (MRF) in Eastleigh, which would have cost upwards of £34 million.  

The county had asked its contractor, Veolia, to put forward a plan to replace the county’s existing MRFs which in the future would not be able to cope with recycling volumes and currently are restricted in what plastics can be handled.

Veolia has worked in Hampshire since 1996 under a contract which runs to 2030

Now, the council has received a report into both the MRF concept and what is required under the government’s waste strategy related proposals which will be in the Environment Bill. The authority was told that the Bill “provides a clear direction of travel for the government, and a clearer indication of the key implications for the waste and resource management sector going forward, as follows: – introduction of consistency for collections of waste from households e.g. material streams including a wider range of plastic packaging and weekly separate food waste collections as well as some specific requirements to separate some materials from others to maintain quality.”

In a meeting on 2 July, the council’s economy, transport and environment select committee unanimously agreed not to go ahead with the MRF proposal, which it had originally asked Veolia to put together as part of plans to keep a commingled service.  Veolia has a contract with the county council until 2030.

The council will now examine business cases for alternative collection options, which include  twin stream and kerbside sort systems, as well as delivering food waste infrastructure to meet requirements in the Environment Bill.  But it admits that not all collection authorities in the county might sign up to the idea of leaving a commingled approach.

Proposals 

Veolia’s MRF in Alton which cannot handle pots, tubs and trays

The report stated that in order to improve Hampshire’s 41.3% recycling ratethe county has worked with its disposal contractor Veolia to upgrade existing MRFs in Alton and Portsmouth. 

However, “the physical constraints of the Portsmouth site mean that it would not be possible to provide the capability at this site, and the MRF at Alton is not big enough to be able to take all of the recyclables from across the county”.  

In the MRF research it was also found that the processing of Pots, Tubs and Trays would be feasible but not glass with the other materials, as this would have incurred a gate fee “which would be at least 10 times greater than the current bulking costs”.  

Eastleigh 

The county council says it has invested in a site at Chickenhall Lane in Eastleigh, which has planning permission for waste activity. 

 At the council’s request, Veolia submitted a detailed design proposal for the development of a single 125,000 tonne per annum MRF to process fully comingled dry mixed recyclables (excluding glass) at the Chickenhall Lane site. 

This would have cost a combined total of £34,1 million, as outlined below.  

Rejected 

The report stated that including interest and depreciation, this would end up costing the council  £4.6 million a year up until the end of the contract with Veolia in 2030.  

This, according to the report, does not provide a value for money solution.  But importantly, the council was told that “It should also be noted that it is not expected that a fully comingled system will comply with the anticipated legislation and would therefore impact negatively on any EPR payments that local authorities might receive.” 

It also explained that “as a consequence” of the county council considering the potential relocation of its recyclables processing capacity from Alton to Eastleigh, Veolia submitted a planning application to repurpose the site as an Energy Recovery Facility on 25 May 2020 (see letsrecycle.com story). 

Recycling 

The report put Hampshire’s lower recycling rate down to a number of reasons, including cuts to communications budgets and the “restricted processing ability” of the existing MRF infrastructure, which is “currently unable” to sort the full range of plastic packaging products.

“In Hampshire, the recycling system has been determined by the input specification for the MRFs”

Report to Hampshire council

Other reasons for the fall in performance, the report says,  includes the “restricted nature of the Project Integra partnership, which in recent years has tended towards a less ambitious work programme in order to secure consensus.”

It also said that “in Hampshire, the recycling system has been determined by the input specification for the MRFs”. 

“This specification was originally agreed in the mid-1990s and has not changed significantly since then due to the limitation of the MRFs’ design as well as the lack of viable markets for additional materials,” the document explained.

Next steps 

The council says it will now  progress the business case for infrastructure related to both a twin stream collection system and kerbside sort system 

It will report back later this year as the window for new infrastructure delivery, “timed to meet the known Government ambition to introduce its Environment Bill measures by 2023, is shrinking”. 

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