24 October 2012

MRF code mandatory but no thresholds

By Steve Eminton

Senior Defra official Colin Church has ruled out the proposed code of practice for materials recycling facilities from setting specific thresholds for materials in a move which has been endorsed by waste management firm Viridor.

This will mean that MRF operators will not for example, have to ensure under the code that their bales of cans are a specific percentage of cans such as 98%.

Dr Colin Church, director for climate, waste and atmosphere, Defra

Dr Colin Church, director for climate, waste and atmosphere, Defra

Dr Church indicated that the code will be mandatory, will cover all MRFs registered under the environmental permitting regime and will provide a way for customers of MRFs to better assess whether the material is of good quality.

Speaking yesterday at a meeting of the Associate Parliamentary Sustainable Resource Group in Westminster, Dr Church, director for climate, waste and atmosphere at Defra, said: We will not set quality standards in the version we are putting out for consultation we dont think it should. The information from the code for customers will give them an improved ability to confidentially identify MRFs providng good quality.


The MRF code will be issued for consultation by Defra and will come alongside a Quality Action Programme for recycling. The documents are nearly ready to be issued and resource minister Lord de Mauley approved them last week.

Explaining some of the thinking behind the Quality Action Programme, Dr Church reaffirmed that under the governments implementation of the revised Waste Framework Directive (rWFD) that commingled collection of recyclables is permissible. The point is crucial in the debate prompted by the Judicial Review over whether or not the government has correctly interpreted sorting requirements in the rFWD (see letsrecycle.com story)

Dr Church continued: This governments position is for local authorities and residents to be able to decide on the best collection method for their area. Thats why in revising the regulations for collection that commingling is acceptable where separate collection is not technically, environmentally and economically practicable (TEEP). If it is necessary to ensure quality of recycling then you can put together technology to separate it out.

Responding to a question from paper confederation director general David Workman, Dr Church noted: Your point about glass fragments and film, yes it can be difficult to separate them but it depends on the material and circumstances.


And, commenting on collection methods, Dr Church reflected: Where I live we have a wide pavement and a garden and we could have 10 separate boxes. Not far away are homes with no front garden and narrow pavements. It is about giving as much choice as possible.

The idea of not giving specific percentages for material coming out of MRFs was backed by Viridors director of resources, Herman Van der Meij.

Mr Van der Meij told the meeting: Yes, we want a quality standard but you will never get a clear quality standard. And he explained that the European paper organisation CEPI itself allows flexibility in grades: The CEPI news and pams grade, allows a mixture of news and pams, one and a half per cent of outthrows, unless agreed differently by the buyer and seller. You have to ensure the mills and suppliers are able to talk to each other.


In discussion with the chair of the meeting, Dan Rogerson MP, Mr Van der Meij agreed with the suggestion from Mr Rogerson that a tolerance in terms of contamination was necessary.

‘There is an intrinsic problem behind the concept of a mandatory perspective. Quality standard seems to us to be very hard to set for all the materials coming out of MRFs’

Dr Colin Church, Defra

Emphasising that quality is important to Viridor, Mr Van der Meij said: The quality of our recyclables is of the utmost importance, only quality sells. We will not differentiate between the UK, Europe and Asia. We need to be compliant with national and international requirements. To get this quality in Viridor we have a very large investment programme. And, to get quality first starts with input, then what comes out as the output.

He added: We try to sell more and more into the UK – it is not possible with all commodities but we do our best.

Explaining some aspects of the Quality Action Programme, Dr Church said that this will set out a vision of the quality issue.


Topics will include a voluntary system for the quality of dry recyclables and links with the transfrontier shipment regulations. It will also explore other areas such as amending the packaging waste regulations and looking to see if there can be a more level playing field for PRNs and PERNs.

The MRF code of practice will address key market failure and a paucity of information and include:

  • Sampling and composition test, inputs and outputs.
  • Record keeping for three years
  • Sampling and composition tests on inputs and outputs
  • Record keeping for three years
  • Independent assessment of MRFs.

And, Dr Church returned again to the justification for not setting specific percentages for material quality. He emphasised: There is an intrinsic problem behind the concept of a mandatory perspective. Quality standard seems to us to be very hard to set for all the materials coming out of MRFs if for plastics, for example, what polymers would you set them for. Under a mandatory process, do you have any idea it takes to update how many years we would be behind the curve?

Defra has confirmed that the proposed code of practice for MRFs will not set quality thresholds for specific materials

Defra has confirmed that the proposed code of practice for MRFs will not set quality thresholds for specific materials

On exports, he said: there is empty shipping going back. If it is of good quality it can be better to export it than stick it in a hole if we cant process it here. If we develop more capacity in the UK then exports will drop. Earlier in the meeting, Dr Church had also highlighted recent comments by Secretary of State Owen Paterson who has said: I want to see our recycling industry grow.


The costs of contamination at MRFs were highlighted to the APSRG event by Simon Barnes, business development director of DS Smith Recycling. DS Smith recently acquired SCA Recycling which included the companys MRF in Southampton.

Mr Barnes said that the losses in terms of costs to the business arising because of contamination at Southampton were at a level of 1 million per annum. He cited:

  • The cost of creating refuse derived fuel to dispose of waste
  • Damage to equipment
  • Downtime for cleaning
  • Lost sales due to lost production.

He argued: The MRF code of practice is not going to be enough. We need quality collection systems, good quality sampling and reporting and inspection of loads.

And, Mr Barnes said he considered that there was a lack of trust between partners in the supply chain. This sector is immature and is in danger of not delivering on sustainability.

The business development director also sounded a warning that there was the potential for recovered paper to be sent to energy from waste plants if gate fees fell. He explained that currently MRF processing costs about 40-70 in terms of a gate fee and that a 20-30 gate fee for energy from waste would see paper going for incineration. We are not there yet as [EfW] is 60-70 now. If it became more competitive then we might have more of a problem.


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