Marketing Oversized Plastic Containers from London’s MRF

The London MRF opened in August 2011 with several features that have contributed to its effective and efficient operation. From the outset, staff knew it was important to recognize the mix of materials coming through the facility would change and likely design modifications would be required over time. With this in mind, the initial MRF was designed to accommodate future modifications, without necessarily being designed for specific changes.

Oversized plastic containers are included in London’s recycling program. Comprised largely of HDPE, they attract stable end-markets and higher revenue.  However, their size makes them a ‘problem material’ and they must be removed during the pre-sort or they will disrupt other parts of the operation.

Container chute from sorting room (Source: City of London)
Container chute from sorting room (Source: City of London)

Initially, oversized plastic containers and film plastics were removed in the pre-sort room, baled and shipped together to end markets.  This mixed product generated little revenue for the City but provided an opportunity to divert these materials and avoid landfilling disposal costs.

To market the oversized plastic containers separately, the City installed a container return chute to the residue line and a storage bunker, at a price of $85,000.  Under this system the oversized plastics are removed via positive sort in the pre-sort room, sent down the residue line, then removed from the residue clean-up station and placed in a designated bunker.

Financial impacts

The mixed product of plastic film and oversized plastic containers was initially sold for an average of $15 per tonne. This has since increased to $30/tonne for film and $220/tonne for containers.  The marketed tonnes of film and oversized plastics increased by 85% in the 12 months following the modification, going from 140 to 260 tonnes.

The MRF modification has been a success as measured by the amount of material sent to market and the prices received.  Since June 2014, the MRF has generated over $50,000 in revenue from the sale of these materials and as the modified system did not add any operating costs, London staff estimate a 36 month return-on-investment for the project.

A tale of 2 problematic materials…

Film plastics – why are they in London’s MRF? Large transparent plastic bags are permitted in the City’s recycling program for use as a recycling container, even though plastic film in general is not collected.

Oversized plastic containers  – why are they problematic? The problem is in the name – size – their bulk can jam up sorting equipment causing serious delays.

What do film and oversized plastic containers have in common? Both are problem materials in the MRF and need to be removed early in the sort process to avoid potential disruption downstream.

Contact CIF Staff

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The project report for this work completed under CIF project 855 is coming soon and will be available on the “Funded Projects” page.