13 November 2018 by Joshua Doherty

MRF material quality continues downward trend

The volume of ‘target material’ received at England’s materials recycling facilities (MRFs) has decreased for the third consecutive quarter, latest data suggests.

The latest set of figures were published on WRAP’s Materials Facility Portal this week and showed that for the second quarter of 2018, an average of 84.8% of material received at English MRFs was ‘target’ material, down “very slightly” from 84.9% in the first quarter of 2018.

More than 100 MRFs England and Wales contributed to the WRAP assessment

It means the figure recorded for the second quarter of this year was also the lowest percentage since MRF operators began publishing data four years ago.


The data suggested that the average percentage of non-recyclable material received at English MRFs fell to 9.3% in Q2, down from 9.6% in the first quarter.

The remaining 5.9% was ‘non-target’ material, which is material that can be considered recyclable but is not sorted at that specific facility.

The data on quality was published on WRAP’s Materials Facility Reporting Portal and charts the volume of ‘target’ and ‘non-target’ material received by 101 MRFs in England and Wales from April to May 2018.

The total target material fell slightly, recording the lowest number since records began for the second consecutive quarter


From a Welsh perspective, the second quarter figures saw a 0.3% rise in target material to 87.8% for target materials at MRFs. The remaining percentage was made up of 6.9% non-recyclable material and 5.3% non-target recyclable material.

The 0.3% increase in target materials for Welsh MRFs, was made up of a 0.5% decrease  in non-recyclable material and a 0.2% increase in non-target material.

Despite the quarterly increase however, the figure shows a 2.2% drop in quality since records began in the last quarter of 2014.


The lowest average percentage (by weight) of target material in the output material streams is for plastic in England (89.4%), and glass for Wales (90.4%).

For both England and Wales, paper made up the largest proportion of material at MRFs, making up 47% and 54% respectively.

This was followed by glass (16% for England and 15% for Wales) and plastic (14% for England compare to 13%).


The figures are compiled through requirements for MRF operators to provide quarterly details of the mixed waste tonnage received from each supplier and the output tonnage despatched by four specified material streams.

Paper made up the majority of material in both England and Wales (Pictured: the material percentages at English MRFs)

They are also required to take samples of the input and output material and identify the average percentage of target, non-target and non-recyclable material.

From October 2016, the regulations stated that operators must take samples from every 125 tonnes, except where the mixed waste is being transferred to another MF for separating into specified output material.


Speaking to letsrecycle.com, Ray Georgeson, chief executive of the Resource Association, said he said he would like to see “full disclosure” on the number of inspections carried out at MRFs, as well as saying he hopes the government will “review the effectiveness” of MF Regulations in the forthcoming waste strategy.

“Although they continue to state that the programme of inspections continues, no data is provided on the numbers and frequency of inspections. It is time now for full disclosure by the Environment Agency on the numbers of completed inspections,” Mr Georgeson said.

“Overall, the MRF portal remains a catalogue of the recent history of MRF sorting rather than a useful tool to aid reprocessors make decisions.”

Ray Georgeson
Resource Association

He added: “Contamination of input continues to be a problem with over 10% of material collected not being target material.  This is a lot of wasted effort and probably confusion on the part of residents and cost in terms of collections and MRF sorting.

“Overall, the MRF portal remains a catalogue of the recent history of MRF sorting rather than a useful tool to aid reprocessors make decisions in relation to sourcing quality material from MRFs, as was the original intention of the scheme.  We hope that the Government will seek to review the effectiveness and operation of the MF Regulations as part of the future programme we all have hopes for in the forthcoming Resources and Waste Strategy.”


From the perspective of the Environmental Services Association, Jakob Rindegren, recycling policy advisor, said the figures are difficult to draw conclusions from.

“It is unfortunately difficult to draw any general conclusions from the data, other than that it’s actually quite stable,” he explained.

Mr Rindegren added: “The slight drop in input target material for England could be due to a tightening of what is considered target material because of tougher end markets as well as local authorities having to make savings on communications to householders. Also, given that some of the output plastics go for further sorting at PRFs the MRF data doesn’t necessarily show the end quality.”


MRF and Markets Conference

7 February 2019

National Motorcycle Museum, Solihull, B92 0EJ



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