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The UK’s recycling infrastructure


A MRF (pronounced “murf”) is an essential component of the recycling process for municipal waste, including household and commercial waste. A MRF, or Material Recycling Facility is a recycling plant. The MRF accepts mixed recycling from homes and business across the country. It uses mechanical and technical equipment in order to separate recyclates into single material streams before shipment to the market.

MRFs are available in a variety of sizes and capacities. From smaller MRFs that process a few hundred tons per week, to “Super” MRFs, like Biffa’s Edmonton facility which processes thousands tonnes per week. Biffa has five MRFs in its infrastructure, including Edmonton, which is the UK’s largest Material Recycling Facility. The Edmonton “Super” MRF covers over 35,000 square feet. The m is open 24/7 and employs over 340 people across four shifts. It processes 5,200 tonnes waste into high quality products.

Edmonton MRF accepts waste from all over the UK. It has more than 1500 vehicle movements per week. The majority of the waste collected at the curbside by the 2 million residents in the North London Waste Authority area (NLWA) is recycled. The ‘Super MRF’ receives a variety of recyclable household packaging, including aluminium and steel cans, plastic bottles, pots and tubs, glass bottles, paper and card.

How Material Recycling Facilities Work

All recycling is weighed before entering the Edmonton MRF and unloaded onto the tip floor for processing. The recyclables are inspected by a quality team, and any loads that are heavily contaminated will be rejected. The commingled material is placed into large feed hoppers that regulate the density before the contents are transported to the processing plant. The waste is then sent to a presort station for the removal of general waste or unaccepted material.

Paper, card, and glass are removed by mechanical separation equipment. Plastics, aluminum and cans are separated by aluminium eddy-currents, overband magnets, and automated optical sorters. Separated materials can be bagged and transported to Biffa polymers for further processing. For example, milk bottles sent to Biffa are treated and made into food-grade pellets that are used to manufacture new milk bottles. Learn more about the life of a plastic milk bottle and its journey at Biffa polymers. All non-recyclable materials will be transported to facilities for energy. The material that enters the Edmonton MRF is turned into a product.


Why MRFs play a vital role in the recycling process

Single-stream recycling collections for households is both inefficient and expensive. Instead, consider having separate bins for glass, plastics, cards, and metal. Co-mingled collections are also more environmentally friendly because they allow for large quantities of recycling to be processed without compromising quality. Edmonton, a ‘Super MRF’, has the equipment and capacity to handle co-mingled collection in large areas like London, reducing the number of vehicles on the roads and saving local authorities money.

Edmonton recycles 100%, and the remainder is used to fuel energy. The remaining fraction of the recycling is either sold on the commodities markets or transported to facilities in the Biffa Network, for further value enhancement.

MRF problems

Material Recycling Facilities are able to receive a wide range of unwanted or non-recyclable materials, such as nappies and feminine hygiene products. They also accept textiles, large items, food and garden waste, and general waste. To maintain our high standards, these contaminants must be removed from recyclable materials. These problems become more serious as a result of the growing market competition and increasing demands for quality standards.

Edmonton invested PS5.5m in 2017 to improve the quality and meet buyer specifications. It is important to reduce contamination in order to maintain the quality of the final product as it continues to evolve.

NWLA and Biffa launched a campaign called “Bin your nappy” to educate Londoners on the dangers of contaminating household recycling with nappies. Biffa and its partners will continue to work together to educate and help the public understand the benefits and importance of recycling.

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Jane S. King

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