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Design and technology take centre stage at MRF & Markets Conference

A delegation from Casepak attended the recent MRF & Markets Conference which was held in November. Run by the Environment Media Group, the MRF & Markets Conference brings together experts from across the industry to consider and discuss policy, regulations, latest developments and case studies, as well as debate some of the key issues in the industry. 

Following the unprecedented challenges brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic, this year’s conference looked at the problems facing MRF operators, including the ongoing battle against contamination, and also at the future for MRF design and the role that new technology will play in driving innovation and efficiency across the sector. 

Contamination remains one for the key challenges faced by MRFs, with some level of contamination present within most material streams processed by facilities across the country. The Conference was told that MRF operators have seen contamination levels worsen over recent years, as large numbers of people have been spending more time at home (producing more waste as a result).  

Coupled with the closure of many export markets, ongoing haulage and logistics issues, staff shortages due to coronavirus, a shift to online shopping habits, and a rise in so-called ‘wish-cycling’, MRF operators have been facing a perfect storm of increased material volumes and worsening levels of contamination.  

While MRFs are designed to separate different materials, they are programmed to deal with particular materials entering the facility in the first place. At most MRFs, the tolerances for contamination are not clear and there are no standards set for MRFs to reach. 

Changes in policy and consumer habits will also bring challenges in the near future. Initiatives such as the proposed introduction of a deposit return scheme (DRS) for drinks containers (which is expected to be introduced by 2023) will create additional pressures in terms of volumes and potential contamination. While it is not clear how the scheme will work in practice, it is obvious that a DRS would have a massive impact across the supply chain, which will need to work together and embrace the new technologies, including robotics and AI, that are required to manage the changing composition of material streams. 

For MRF operators, changes will have to be made to existing facilities to deal with how material is processed, although no final decisions can be made until the details of the scheme have been agreed. Modern day MRFs will be needed to be designed with these changes in mind, with consideration paid to the technological changes such as the use of robotics. Data from MRF operators is helping to drive innovation towards so-called ‘intelligent’ MRFs, with reporting on the volumes and types of materials being processed used to inform MRF design and development.  

The recycling sector has a crucial role to play in the UK’s drive to achieve a sustainable future and recycling will be vital to closing the loop. Events including the MRF & Markets Conference play an important role in spreading best practice across the sector and keeping all involved up to date on the latest policies and technologies. There are numerous challenges ahead for MRF operators, but the sector is well placed to rise to meet them, and Casepak will continue to invest in its recycling infrastructure to ensure it remains at the forefront of the UKs recycling industry.