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The proposed MRF Regulations

11th February 2013 Posted by

On 01 February 2013 Defra launched a Consultation on the draft Materials Recycling Facility (MRF) Regulations, which are designed to control and monitor recyclate output quality.  Already, opposing camps are sharpening their arguments. The waste management sector has welcomed the proposals, which are based on a voluntary scheme running since 2007, while reprocessors and recyclers want a tougher inspection regime and defined output quality bands as set out in Defra’s Quality Action Plan for recyclates.

SITA UK - mterials recycling facility

Unfortunately the draft Materials Recycling Facility (MRF) Regulations have become a lightening rod for a number of disparate grumbles. The voluntary MRF Code of Practice, which is subject to external auditing, was introduced in 2007 by the waste management sector to control the quality of recyclates exported as so-called Green List material. This led to complaints from domestic reprocessors that the Code of Practice did not protect them from the poor quality material they were being offered.  Meanwhile, waste managers urged Defra to make the Code of Practice mandatory to place the entire sector on a level footing – which led to the present Consultation. But not only has the argument switched from export to the domestic market, the debate over separate versus co-mingled collection of recyclables  has also been added to the mix – reprocessors appear to be expecting the new Materials Recycling Facility (MRF) Regulations to test the thesis that co-mingled collections can deliver ‘high quality’ recycling.

The issue of more inspections needs to be set against the mandatory weekly input and output sampling programme that materials recycling facility operators will be expected to implement and communicate to the Environment Agency.  Increasing inspection frequency from one per year to even one per month would hardly deter a determined operator from disregarding his permit obligations. Rogue operators need to be dealt with in a more targeted fashion, without penalising compliant operators (the vast majority of the sector) with significant additional costs. The stated intention of the Environment Agency is to increase its focus on waste crime, which is to be welcomed.

The call for defined output quality standards is at odds with the way in which recyclates are typically traded. Output quality is matched to individual customer needs – subject, of course, to proper quality control, which the proposed Regulations should provide.  Materials recycling facilities should be allowed the flexibility to produce a range of recyclates dependent on market conditions (and market prices) without being constrained by artificial and generalised quality bands. Not all end uses require the highest quality recyclates, nor will all end users pay a premium for the highest quality, irrespective of their specific needs.

Given the transformation that the materials recycling facility sector as a whole will undergo, tightening its operations in line with the proposals, the sensible course of action would be for Defra to introduce the Regulations as published (minus the voluntary quality banding proposal), monitor its efficacy over the full operational year and then make adjustments, if necessary, in a more considered way.

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