Where Recyclables Go
A Materials Recovery Facility, also known as a Materials Reclamation Facility, or a MRF (pronounced “murf”), is an intermediate processing destination for potentially recyclable goods once they are collected from home or business. After sorting, goods are then prepared for manufacturers, who will be able to use them in future production.
This type of modern recycling facility first appeared in the U.S. in the 1970s, when one of the first, Peter Karter’s Resource Recovery Systems, went into the business of materials recovery.
Clean Vs. Dirty MRF
There are two main types of MRF that process recyclable materials. A “clean” facility works with recyclables ONLY (no trash). There are two primary kinds of clean MRFs, single stream and dual stream. Single stream MRFs accept recyclables that were placed all in one bin on the curb regardless of material type. Dual stream MRFs accept recyclables that are separated by consumers at the curb; in these cases consumers typically must separate recyclables by fiber products (papers) and containers (glass, metal, plastic).
A “dirty” MRF accepts unsorted solid waste — meaning a combination of both trash and recyclables, as opposed to just multiple kinds of recyclables. Recyclable materials are then separated from trash at the MRF. This is accomplished by hand and with the aid of automated sorting machines. After sorting out as many recyclable products as possible, the remainder, including non-recyclable goods like food waste, contaminated paper, non-accepted plastics and more, is sent to a landfill.
How a MRF Processes Waste
Materials are separated based on their size, weight, electromagnetic properties, and other characteristics as they move over a series of conveyor belts. After sorting, viable recyclables are usually crushed, compacted, and organized into bales. In this case, the bales are then sold and shipped to appropriate manufacturers, but materials may be sold and passed to manufacturers at any given point in the process.
How a MRF Impacts the Environment
By providing manufacturers with recycled production materials, less mining and synthetic production of those materials will be required. As a result, industry will produce fewer greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from manufacturing and transportation and consume fewer natural resources. This process still produces more emissions than the simple practice of reducing and reusing of goods but is the best option when goods are no longer reusable. Additionally, keeping products such as paper out of the landfill also reduces GHGs.
Consumers can directly benefit from MRF recycling by saving money in pay-as-you-throw trash systems and by receiving reward incentives for recycling like the ones offered by Recyclebank.