MRFS – Materials Recovery Facilities and Recycling

October 10, 2018

Just after Sunrise.

When many of us see the term MRFs we think that the official name for these facilities is a Material Recycling Facility, and this in many ways is what they are. However, waste management professionals will tell you that the correct term for them is Materials Recovery Facilities (MRFs).

MRFs are a waste management option specifically linked to recycling, bridging the gap between collection of recyclables and reprocessing. However, it has not strictly been correct in many districts in the past to have said that they were solely for the purpose of recycling. Both within and outside Europe (the EU) a proportion of the waste is now and will be for the foreseeable future, sent to landfill. In a commercially based and unregulated MRF only those materials which could profitably be recycled by the operator would be.

However, due to public pressure and in principle environmentally sound reasons in most parts of the world it has been found that recycling should not just be a largely voluntary activity carried out only where the market provides an economic benefit from such recycling. Due to risk and price volatility in the recycled materials market, without government encouragement, recycling has simply just not been taking place to the extent that, any consideration of the long sustainability of civilization, was going to need.

In short, society was rapidly moving toward the point of burial under its own rubbish. Worse and more pervasive still was, and is still, the danger from the gradual contamination of groundwater around the landfills, by the landfills. If this was allowed to continue might have a far more serious effect on the health of society than the rubbish itself. The reason for this being that so many areas rely on their groundwater for drinking water.

Therefore, MRFs perform an increasingly important role for communities in many countries. Indeed, many more of them are going to be needed to provide much increased waste recycling, in each and every district, of all our towns and cities. MRFs are also essential to the planned reduction in the amount of organic matter which will be sent to landfills throughout the EU.

This is recognised by the UK government as they form an important role within the Government’s Waste Strategy 2000 (DETR 2000a and DETR 2000b), which predicts that as many as 316 MRFs (DETR 2000b: 194) will be required to meet its aims in England and Wales alone. Why reduce organic matter being sent to landfills? The reason is that the organic matter is the main source of pollutants in any Municipal Solid Waste landfills.

So, at its core any Material Recovery/Recycling Facility is a waste disposal facility that separates the recycling material before it is sold on and recycled, and as far as possible, they are operated to be as “self funding” as possible. However, although all council and private MRF operator’s waste services departments do attempt to identify sustainable and profitable markets for the recycled material, into which they sell their recovered materials, the earnings created do not come close to meeting the very high operating costs.

It is interesting to note that the UK Waste Strategy 2000 recognises that a system based on new facilities and extensive separate kerbside collection of recyclables will be an important element in meeting recovery targets. But, the driving force in this process is the attainment of the targets, and any revenue from this is incidental. In the document, it states that it is hoped that this may increase the economic viability of recycling schemes, including kerbside collection, by allowing localized sorting of materials (see paragraphs 5.19 – 5.22). As stable markets develop and a demand is established for the recyclates, it may be that the value of the recycled materials rises. However, this is only a hope of government, and cannot be guaranteed.

So, recycling initiatives and operations are driven by the need to meet statutory targets. Recycling involves collecting materials that can be marketed to produce more products containing a percentage of recycled materials such as paper, cardboard, cans, glass and plastic bottles. The process means that less raw materials will need to be mined (metals) or grown (trees) and less energy will be consumed in the manufacture of new products.

Now you have read this article you will not be one of those ignorant of the important role of the MRF in your district. In fact waste management is far from a boring subject, and there are rapid developments in the technology and large expansion plans taking place right now.

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