Have you ever wondered what happens to all those cans, bottles, and paper products you toss into the recycling bin? Well, there is a place known as a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF), which plays a crucial role in disposing of all your trash appropriately.

So, what is a materials recovery facility? Even those with prior expertise in garbage and recycling may find it challenging to convey exactly what it does. However, you are in for a whirlwind of information as we dive into the fascinating world of the materials recovery facility.

Get ready to uncover the inner workings of these recycling hubs, learn about the incredible technology behind them, and discover how they play a crucial role in environmental sustainability.

So, buckle up, and let’s embark on this enlightening journey together!

What is a Materials Recovery Facility?

All of the recycling magic happens in a materials recovery facility. It is the location where recyclables are gathered, processed, and readied for sale to a third party.

An MRF employs a wide range of technology, machinery, and good old-fashioned physical labor to do its tasks. It’s like a superhero that recycles! Also, you may hear it referred to as a materials reclamation plant or a materials recycling facility, but it’s all the same thing.

Here’s another critical thing to note: an MRF is vital, especially in towns that are committed to single-stream recycling. You know how everything is thrown into one bin? These facilities, on the other hand, are crucial for ensuring that all of those recyclables are sorted and ready to be sold.

Around 86% of curbside recycling programs in the United States are now single-stream. There’s a lot of recycling going on there!

What are 2 Types of MRF Facility?

There are two main types of MRFs used by hauling companies: Dirty MRF and clean MRF. Let’s break it down:

  1. Dirty MRF

    Dirty MRFs process recyclables alongside municipal garbage trash. To separate recyclables from rubbish, they utilize a combination of hand and mechanical sorting. The recyclable materials are then processed to ensure they fulfill industry quality requirements.

    A large dirty MRF may process over 700 tonnes of materials per day. However, owing to contamination, a significant portion of the processed materials, such as cardboard and paper, cannot be recycled.

  2. Clean MRF

    Clean MRFs deal with recyclable materials that have previously been separated from solid garbage from residential and commercial establishments. They often process single-stream recyclables, which include all materials (paper, plastics, metals, glass, and cardboard).

    These resources are sorted, processed, and prepared for the final buyer. Although clean MRFs recycle more materials than dirty MRFs, the amount of materials recycled is still low owing to contamination from ‘commingling’ the contents in one trash.

What Does a Materials Recovery Facility Sort?

MRF facility handles a wide range of recyclable materials, including plastics, various types of paper (newspapers, magazines, office paper, mixed paper, and so on), cardboard (also known as OCC), metal containers such as aluminum and steel cans, and glass bottles and jars. It’s rather impressive how much it can process!

Video by Wasterecycling

How Does a Materials Recovery Facility Work?

So you’ve got the lowdown on what an MRF is and what it sorts, and now you are probably wondering how the magic happens, right? Well, here’s the scoop on what goes down in a materials recovery facility:

  • First, the haulers come by and drop off all of the supplies at the facility, after which they discharge everything onto the tipping floor.
  • The goods are then transferred to a conveyor belt, where personnel jump in to remove any contamination or non-recyclables manually.
  • Following that, a clever machine blasts the cardboard into a separate holding area. At the same time, the smaller items fall through the shafts.
  • The paper products are sent to a paper sorting line, while the remaining materials pass via a screen. Meanwhile, giant magnets swoop in and grab any passing metals. There’s an eddy that keeps aluminum cans and foil from falling off the conveyor belt.
  • Glass bottles and jars are separated from the residual plastics and pulverized into cullets, which are finely crushed glass.
  • Finally, the remaining plastics are classified according to their resin code.

That is how an MRF operates! It’s like giving waste a second chance at life! So, next time you toss something in the recycling bin, just think about the amazing journey it’s about to take.

How Can Materials Recovery Facility Efficiencies Be Improved?

Do you want to improve the efficiency of your local MRF? Well, one significant way to help an MRF work well is to keep plastic bags and straws out of your recycling. These bothersome things can cause substantial problems for these facilities by becoming entangled in their sorting machinery.

MRFs are intended to take up things measuring at least five inches in either direction. Anything more minor or flexible, such as plastic straws or plastic bags, might clog the system or slip through the crevices. They may end up in the landfill with dirt, food waste, glass, and other tiny debris.

Because materials recovery staff manually filter through goods on conveyor belts, the more pollutants in a shipment, the more likely manual sorting will be required. Thus, helping to keep the recycling clean may go a long way toward making the process go more smoothly and efficiently.


  1. What is the main purpose of MRF?

    A materials recovery facility is essentially a location where recyclable materials are separated and organized from trash using a combination of machinery and people. The Athens or mixed-waste MRFs are designed to separate recyclables from regular household trash.

  2. What are the benefits of MRF?

    MRF is a boon to recycling, which is essential to preserve the planet. By enabling recycling of plastic instead of creating new materials, MRF offers a more energy-efficient option. This minimizes the demand for raw resources such as oil.

    As a result, the carbon footprint of plastic manufacture is reduced. Thus, mechanical or material recycling is a win-win situation!

  3. What is an example of materials being treated at an MRF?

    Paper, glass, metals, cardboard, and plastic containers are examples of items that are typically treated in an MRF facility. Furthermore, residuals, which are waste materials with little economic value, are left in an MRF following the sorting process.

    Broken glass, fabrics, rubber, ceramics, worn-out plastics, concrete pieces, dirt, and other similar materials may be among the residuals.

  4. What is the difference between clean MRF and dirty MRF?

    When it comes to clean MRF vs dirty MRF, the primary distinction is that a clean MRF processes all recyclables from your blue bin. But a dirty MRF treats all residential or business waste without first eliminating any recyclables. This means that a dirty MRF can gather items that would otherwise be overlooked if they were simply tossed in the garbage.

  5. What happens to the material from a dirty MRF that is not recyclable?

    Here’s the deal: between 5 and 45% of the entering material is sorted out as recyclables by the dirty MRF facility. The rest of the trash either winds up in landfills or is disposed of in various ways.