By Jeff Eriks

A good and solid plan is essential in building an MRF facility as it affects the proper operation.

Materials Recovery Facilities or MRFs are very important parts of the waste stream management systems. Recycling is an important part of waste management today. Given that we are facing the challenges of climate change, there is a need to be more conscious about the resources we use. It’s also imperative that we cut down on the amount of waste that ends up in landfills.

An MRF is a processing facility where recyclable materials are separated from the common waste stream. The waste being segregated could be from the curbside collection of municipal solid waste (MSW) or commercial waste. MRFs are also segregated as a single stream or multiple streams.

Whatever types of waste you are planning to deal with, building an MRF is an undertaking that needs a lot of care and attention. Your plan needs to take into account all the factors that affect the proper operation of an MRF.

We at Cambridge Companies have a great deal of experience building and operating MRFs that can really add value to your recycling efforts. This blog will discuss some of the top challenges that you are likely to face when you are building an MRF. Let’s go!

What You Should Consider Before Planning Your Construction

Let’s begin here. An MRF plays an important role in segregating waste in cases where segregation at the source is not possible. It’s usually the case when it comes to communities where curbside pickup does not provide different bins for different types of waste. Even with segregation at the source, you will need to sort the waste one step further before you can send it to recycling facilities.

Generally in MRFs, collection trucks dump the waste collected on the tipping floor. Series of conveyor belts then carry this waste to the various waste sorting areas where people or machines segregate the various types of waste. Some materials that are not recyclable are separated early and sent to waste disposal facilities like landfills or incinerators.

Before you actually start your process of planning, there are some important aspects to consider. The challenges that you face will depend a lot on these factors. Here are some of them.

Clean, Dirty, or Wet MRF?

MRFs are essentially different based on the types of waste it accepts. A clean MRF only accepts waste that has already been source separated. The function of these MRFs is to further clean the waste. Glass and metal scraps need to be taken out of OCC waste before baling. Organics should not have any inorganic waste such as glass bottles or plastic bags in them and such aspects.

A mixed or Dirty MRF will deal with mixed waste that is not segregated. This would mean that there are a lot more processes involved and the time taken to sort the waste would also be high. Dirty MRFs also use a wide variety of equipment that can sort waste to reduce time and manual intervention.

Wet MRF is a variation of the dirty MRF where water is used to sort the different types of waste based on their density.

Single Stream Recycling or Multi-Stream Recycling?

Both these formats are different in the way it works. In a single source, you can fairly assess the constitution of the waste given you know the source that it is coming from. This is usually the case in publicly funded MRFs that are built by local governments for sorting MSW.

This would mean that you need to create facilities to include the various automated sorting equipment that you will need. You will also have a fair idea of the type of vehicles that will be coming in to drop off waste and for picking up recyclable materials.

If it is a multi-source facility, you will need to plan for various types of waste and also be able to sort and clean these different varieties of waste. Since the sources are separate, facilities would also need to be capable of sorting the various types of waste including segregated and un-segregated waste.

What Challenges Should You Plan For?

Given the complexity of operations and the type of materials that you would be dealing with in the facility, ample care needs to be taken while constructing an MRF. However, some of these dimensions are more important than others. A few major considerations we always keep as a priority for any facility we work on are here.


Well, you are after all dealing with waste. Unintended pollution caused by the facility is indeed a major challenge. The waste material you handle can range from food waste and organic matter to liquid waste and even hazardous waste. Each of these can disrupt the local environment significantly and can turn out to be a real challenge. While designing the facility and planning the operations, ensure that there are ways in which you can prevent polluting the area.

The smell is a very common issue and so are pests like rats and insects that come in search of organic matter. Having strong enclosed areas to store and segregate organic waste is necessary. This should be able to keep out pests and also prevent bad odor from spreading into the surrounding areas.

Waste materials leaching into the groundwater supply is also a significant concern. Groundwater is a resource that the community relies upon heavily. Some of the equipment that you use in your facility can have pits as deep as 9 feet or more. If the water table is high, this poses a huge risk of polluting the groundwater. Sufficient preventive measures should be in place to ensure that you are not polluting the water supply or the soil in the nearby areas.

Noise pollution is also of significant concern. The facility is likely to produce a good deal of noise due to the trucks running in and out of the MRF and the operation of heavy machinery. Locating the facility away from heavily populated areas and providing sufficient cover are the best ways to fend off any noise pollution.

Road Access

One another major challenge can be managing road access. The facility will see collection trucks coming in to drop off materials and trucks loading the baled waste to be taken to other recycling services. Having sufficient road access is a necessity. Locating the facility close to the highways and major roads will take care of a lot of issues.

Planning your road access with the biggest trucks you will be dealing with will give you sufficient cover. This way, you will prevent issues with turning radius and parking facilities for all trucks. You also need strong surfaces in the areas that trucks access frequently.


Safety should be invariably the highest priority. The materials reclamation facility consistently deals with hazardous waste, and flammable materials and there is heavy machinery in operation. Safety should be of paramount importance. Create stringent safety plans and make sure that you are building your facility with these aspects in mind.

Office paper and mixed paper as well as OCC and other such materials are highly flammable. Fire safety is a big concern. If you are undertaking recycling processes in-house especially for anaerobic digestion of organic waste to produce biogas, adequate storage facilities will be needed for this too. If you do not plan for safety features well in advance, you will find that you will fall short of regulations. Retrofitting these facilities may cost you more and will also result in time delays.

Hazardous waste handling needs to be done by trained staff and with proper safety gear. Safety equipment and safety training are a must for all staff members working in the MRF. Planning for safety challenges ahead of time will be of great importance.

Future Expansion

One of the aspects that we focus heavily on is leaving room for future expansion. This can be easy to miss and it can turn out to be a big challenge when you finally decide to expand the facility or add more features.

Making sure that you design the facility with the possibility of future expansions in mind. If you are increasing the area of the facility or adding new equipment, electricity, water, and pressurized air need to be available for these new areas without an issue. Providing overhead facilities for these will help. Also, make sure that your electrical room will not be in an area that can be used for future expansion as moving these can prove to be expensive.

How to Plan for Challenges as Best as Possible?

A good solid plan taking all the various dimensions into consideration and great design is the way to go if you are to tackle these issues head-on. Having a clear idea of what you want from your MRF is the ideal place to start. Putting these into action through a good design and construction process is the next step.

As opposed to a traditional design-bid-build method, adopting a design-build approach can help you greatly. We are great advocates of this method. Here, the design and engineering teams sit together right at the beginning and design the facility together. This saves a lot of time, saves you money, and of course, ensures that all the different challenges that you are likely to face are addressed right at the beginning.

Cambridge has been a leader in design-build projects for many turnkey waste processing facilities across the country. We have designed and built numerous facilities that are changing the waste management landscape. Get in touch with us today to discuss your MRF project!