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What Is A Materials Recovery Facility (MRF)

Knowing how our waste is managed and recyclables processed is an important aspect of becoming part of the solution. After all, knowledge is power, and knowing how this stuff all works helps to ensure everything goes where it belongs. Before your recyclables can go forth with their lives and become shiny, new objects again, they have to be sorted, and that happens at a materials recovery facility.

The material recovery facility, or MRF (pronounced “murf”), is a key element in conserving our natural environment and plays a major role in the recycling process. It lessens the destruction of our natural resources while keeping dangerous contaminants out of our soil and water. At a MRF, recyclables are separated and sorted using a combination of special equipment such as powerful magnets and screens, and manual labor. From there, it all gets shipped to recyclers of the materials recovered. And voilà! Your stuff can now become other stuff. 

Now that you know what a MRF is, you should know the difference between a “clean MRF” and a “dirty MRF,” which definitely sounds like an insult — but it isn’t! A clean MRF is where all your blue bin contents wind up in a commingled mess, ready to be sorted and shipped. A dirty MRF processes all household or commercial trash that has nothad trash already removed and, thus, can capture materials that would’ve been missed if they had been placed in the trash. 

More than 90% of the materials entering a clean MRF are processed and made ready for sale, while a well-run dirty MRF may only recover anywhere from 5% to 60% of the incoming materials as recyclable. Not too shabby, but this also means the general public needs to be way more educated on what notto toss in the dumpster. 

While machines and employees can work to separate what they can, MRFs still have a huge problem when it comes to unwanted materials. Glass, ferrous metal, aluminum, and a mixed paper stream including newspapers, magazines, cardboard, and junk mail can all get sorted at a facility, but you can go ahead and stop trying to recycle those plastic bags in your standard blue bin. Instead, take them back to the grocery store or look up what your area’s options are. You’ll be helping reduce the #1 problem MRFs face.