ABC's of Recycling,

Letter M is for ‘MRF’ Materials Recovery Facility

Dec 31 2022

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An (MRF), pronounced ‘murf’, is a factory for sorting and preparing recyclables for resale. The “R” in MRF can stand for recovery, or recycling, or even, reclamation.

As more places across the United States have moved to single-stream recycling (also known as our mixed “blue-bin”), the MRF has become a very import part of waste management.

The Materials Recovery Facility gathers the recycle-bin items, sorts them by type, and bundles them for resale.

How Does a MRF work?

These facilities handle the single-stream recyclables that consumers (both individuals and companies) take time to sort whether it’s your home bin, office or those at a public event or fast food restaurant. These items should be mostly clean and dry (like the name says!) because messy, wet stuff can contaminate the whole load, sending potentially recyclable stuff off to the landfill.

Single-stream recycling has increased the amount of recyclables being kept out of landfills. It’s also made the job of the MRF a lot busier–and sometimes tougher.

A MRF in action is amazing! The ingenious use of conveyor belts, gravity and powerful magnets, which create an eddy current, all help sort the mixed materials which include paper, plastic, metal and aluminum.

Of course, some work must still be done by human hands, especially removing plastic bags that can damage the machines.

This 3 minute video gives a great explanation of the steps in MRF sorting.

#1 Tip: NEVER put plastic bags or straws in your recycling bin!

Plastic bags, straws, bottle caps and other small, flexible plastic pieces often get caught in the sorting equipment and clog machinery.

(Source for tip:

The MRF offers modern solutions to the age old issue of handling waste. It helps cut down on the amount of waste that must go to landfill and creates opportunities for reuse that is both cost and resource effective. (For example, it’s much cheaper to recycle aluminum than it is to dig it out of the ground again.) The MRF is a key part of any community waste/recycling system.

Want another look at a MRF in action? This video is of a MRF in North Carolina, but our recyclables go through a similar process.

Because of the growing amount of unwanted materials in the recycling stream, some communities are asking residents to sort items into more categories (glass, paper, plastics, metal) when placing them at the curb. Afterwards, the items are picked up by separate trucks. This return to “multi-stream” recycling helps make recycling more effective and helps manage the growing list of materials that are not easily handled at MRFs. Unfortunately, because the multi-stream approach requires more education and effort of consumers like us, it’s harder to implement.

The good news is that technology at MRFs continues to evolve. Mechanical advancements have already helped make the MRF machines run more efficiently. That means more items sorted, baled, and recycled!

In the meantime, if we want the convenience of curbside single-stream recycling, we must educate ourselves on what items go in what bins. Contact your local government, your waste hauler, or SCARCE for the latest news on how to recycle right. Together, we can make it easier for the MRFs to do their jobs!

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