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In the UK we produce a lot of waste: Over 100 million tonnes to give you a rough idea. Construction waste, Soil, garage clear outs. If there is one constant in life, it’s this: At some point we all need a skip.

It’s not all doom and gloom though. In the UK we’re good at recycling, and what’s more we’re getting savvier about it every day. At our homes, we are now used to separating our waste into different wheelie bins, whether it is cardboard recycling, garden waste or food waste, whilst schools are educating pupils more and more about environmental issues.

But what happens to the waste after is has been put in a skip?

Whilst we all know that after waste is collected it is sorted to be recycled (and there is a lot of information out there about how different waste streams are recycled) what is often ignored is the actual process of sorting itself – the physical act of separating the waste that exists between collection and transporting the sorted materials for recycling.

This is where the Materials Recovery Facility (or MRF) comes in.

A Materials Recovery Facility (hereafter referred to as a MRF) is where waste goes after is has been collected from receptacles such as skips and RoRos for example. The MRF, sorts, processes and collects the materials before they are to be delivered to various manufacturers to be recycled or re-used into different products and end uses.

But how does a MRF work?

Firstly, the waste is placed in the hopper which feeds into a giant rotating drum which screens the waste in preparation for sorting. It consists of a perforated cylindrical drum, which is angled, to allow for the transportation of waste upwards to the conveyer belt for manual sorting and picking. As the drum is perforated, smaller particles drop through (called fines) and are collected in a separate container to the rest of the waste streams. These ‘fines’ pass through powerful magnets on their journey to ensure all magnetic metals such as steel are separated and collected in their respective pile. Any non-magnetic metals, such as aluminium, are separated from this waste by using an eddy current-separator system and placed in their own storage bay.

Any waste, larger than the holes in the drum, then passes onto a conveyer belt which passes through a manual picking line. Here, workers sort out the waste and misdirected recyclables into different waste streams by hand. Cardboard, plastics, paper, construction waste, all are dropped into their respective holding containers and storage bays.

From here, all the sorted recyclables are baled, compacted, or kept loose, to be delivered on to the next stage of their sustainable journey.