Long-awaited MRF Code of Practice unveiled

A long-awaited Code of Practice for materials recycling facilities has been launched for consultation today (February 1) by resource minister Lord de Mauley alongside a Quality Action Plan.

The draft Code of Practice willrequire all materials recycling facilities (MRFs) over a certain size to measure the quality of their inputs and outputs. The results from these tests would then be made available, for example to businesses buying the recycling material as well as to local councils and others who supply material to the MRFs.The consultation was launched at Veolia's Southwark MRF

However, the code stops short of setting any minimum quality standards.

The mandatory code, which would applyin both England and Wales,isbased on an initiative developed by the Environmental Services Association (ESA), the trade association for the waste management sector in the UK.

While measures outlined in the MRF code and quality action plan are expected to cost businesses approximately 13 million to implement, the government anticipates that they will generate a net saving of 31 million through higher material revenue and reduced landfill costs, alongside avoided greenhouse gas emissions.


Speaking today at an official launch event at Veolia Environmental Services MRF in Southwark, Lord de Mauleysaid he believed there was a strong businesses and environmental case for driving up quality.

He continued: It is in all our interests to obtain the maximum economic value from our recyclates, whatever the material. The right levels of quality unlock and deliver value to the whole supply chain. Get the quality right, and this consultation will help do that, I hope, and manufacturers that use recyclates will want access to greater quantities.”

The minister also commented that improving the quality of recyclables will help on the export market, particularly with regard to China where plastics expects were “potentially under threat from Chinas tightening import regulations.”

Turning to the details of the MRF code, he praised the ESA and its members for their early inputindeveloping it and also WRAP for its support. The code, said Lord de Mauley, would send a “clear signal that government is taking quality seriously.”

Lord de Mauley spoke of the importance of quality at the launch event this morning

During a question and answer session the minister appeared to give out a mixed message on the mandatory aspects of the code. However, it is understood that while the code is mandatory, the Quality Action Plan which sits alongside it is more of a voluntary policy approach.

Manywaste management companies are understood to be supportive of a mandatory approach, with the emphasis being on high quality recycling.

Estelle Brachlianoff, chief executive at VeoliaES UK,said: We welcome this announcement made at our Southwark MRF today which heralds industry consistency for all operators and will standardise material testing regimes, methodology and scheme compliance.The consultation should lead to a new regime which will drive quality up across the entire supply chain a move which we have long favoured – and support the continued growth of the low carbon economy.

MRF code

The MRF code would be delivered through changes to the Environmental Permitting Regulations (England and Wales) which would come into force on April 6 2014 and consultation opened today on the proposals with responses due in by April 26.

The regulations will requireall permitted MRFs processing more than 1,000 tonnes of dry recyclate per annum to routinely measure the quality of the input, output and residual waste streams. Based on industry feedback, Defra is proposing a sampling and testing regime which it believes balances practical and cost issues with the need to provide robust information on composition (see table below).

Summary of proposed levels of sampling under the MRF code of practice
Summary of proposed levels of sampling under the MRF code of practice

This information on quality would be made available electronically on a quarterly basisvia the Environment Agency, to the MRF customers including local authorities and reprocessors.

WhileDefra noted thatthat some within the waste management industry have concerns around making information on quality publicly available,it saidits preferred option was for the Agency to publish it with unrestricted access to improve transparency and accountability.

The proposed regulations also require an annual independent audit to be undertaken “to provide confidence to stakeholders that the sampling and testing is being undertaken in an acceptable and comparable manner by all MRFs (to provide a level playing field) and that the results produced can be relied upon.


Lord de Mauley discounted the suggestion that the Environment Agency might not have sufficient resources to enforce the Code of Practice regulations once they are introduced, saying the process will be subject to audit and the Environment Agency is thoroughly engaged in the process, and that certainly the impression I get is that it is very much up for the task.

However, it remains unclear who will do the actual checks with some in the sector expecting quality assurance firms to be brought in and the existing Environmental Services Association scheme, the Recycling Registration Service, may have a part to play.

“The right levels of quality unlock and deliver value to the whole supply chain”

Lord de Mauley

The costs of the new regime for MRFs was recognised by Defra, said Lord de Mauley. And, he dismissed the notion that local authorities might have to pay more for their materials to be sorted as a result of the code. We expect the value to increase for local authorities, some are involved in profit sharing schemes and they should get a satisfactory share in this way.

The proposed MRF regulations are intended to ensure that the UK can demonstrate that commingled collection of dry recyclates followed by sorting at the MRF can deliver the requirements of the EU revised Waste Framework Directive and promote high quality recycling, in the same manner as kerbside sort collection systems. This comes in the wake of a legal challenge to the way the Directive has been implemented in England and Wales.

Action Plan

The Quality Action Plan sets out the measures Defra is planning to implement over the next few years to drive high quality recycling. The focus is primarily on dry recyclables such as paper, glass, metals and plastics, however Defra said many of the principles also apply to food and garden waste. Notably, it is the first time that the department has published work regarding to the quality of recyclable materials.

Alongside the MRF Code of Practice, the measures outlined in the plan include:

  • Issuing statutory guidance to support waste collectors implementation of the separate collection requirement under the revised Waste Framework Directive;
  • Delivering more accurate recycling data by amending guidance for councils to clarify what they should ask MRF operators to gain robust information on reject rates;
  • Supporting the adoption of the End Destinations of Recycling Charter among local authorities;
  • Developing a voluntary system for grading the quality of recyclates for each of the material streams paper, plastics, metals and glass; and,
  • Consulting on amendments to the packaging waste recovery note (PRN) and packaging waste export recovery note (PRN) scheme in a bid to create a level playing field by applying the same quality criteria (which has yet to be determined) to both.

In addition, Defra will be undertaking a number of actions to help improve the quality of material which is exported. It will be asking the Environment Agency to explore the potential for improving the enforcement of waste shipment controls and work with the industry to improve awareness of the importance of exercising due diligence over where their recycling ends up.

The success of the action plan will be measured on a number of levels, including the proportion of outputs meeting reprocessor quality specifications, the amount of material achieving end of waste status and the number of MRFs implementing quality management systems.

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