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Materials Recovery Facility (Clean MRF)

A MRF is a facility at which components of a mixed waste stream, in this case of co-mingled dry recyclables are extracted by the use of mechanical separation techniques. MRFs may be high and low technology facilities, depending on the sophistication of plant and equipment employed and the numbers of staff working in the operation of the process. Soneville Route Keumie MRF. Courtesy DEFRA.

There has been a steady increase in the numbers of Materials Recovery (or Recycling) Facilities in the UK as more separate recyclate collections have been introduced and overall recycling tonnages have increased.

Materials Recovery Facilities employ a system of conveyors which carry the recyclables over sorting screens or other sorting mechanisms (e.g. inclined tables, air classifiers) which divide the components of the dry recyclates and these pass over magnetic and eddy current separators and may incorporate advanced optical materials recognition equipment which can separate out different types of plastics from the recyclate. There will typically be a significant element of hand-sorting of materials in addition to the automatic extraction of materials as part of the separation process.

View this video of a MRF in operation in Cardiff, Wales, UK,
and see the mechanised loading, picking, separation and sorting
equipment typical of these facilities, in operation.


More about the Lamby Way MRF.

MBT picking line02Post sorting of materials there is a bulking and storage function of an MRF whereby balers are used to compress the recyclate into dense bales for transport to a materials reprocessor.

There will always be a minor rejection element of contrary materials passing through the plant which cannot be easily recycled and therefore will typically go to landfill.

Schematic of Inputs and Outputs of a typical Clean MRF

Typical capacity: 3,000 tpa - 100,000 tpa

Land requirements: 0.8 - 2 Ha

Capital costs Estimated costs to be in the range of (See full report) depending on complexity of the process and equipment employed

Operating costs: Estimated (See full report) per tonne

Staffing requirements: vary greatly depending on the size and the technology of facility, anything from 15 to 85 staff.

Strengths and Weaknesses of Clean MRFs



High processing efficiency

Exposed to market fluctuations

Potential for revenues from sale of materials

Potential fire risk from storage of materials on site

Recyclate generally of relatively high quality

Relies on householders to participate

Can significantly contribute to meeting high recycling targets

Security of input materials required

Proven under world-wide conditions

Potential dust emissions and health issues for workers

Can attract material from both bring & kerbside collection systems, including some commercial / industrial

Reliance on efficiency of mechanical equipment

Can provide work opportunities for disadvantaged sectors of the community


Other Issues

Clean Materials Recovery Facilities are an important component of a modern waste management infrastructure. They are not required however where materials are sorted at the kerbside through split or compartmentalised recyclate collection schemes. The statutory recycling targets for England require considerable additional materials to be recycled and MRF capacity has to significantly increase in order to process these materials over the short to medium term.

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