Resource Recovery Facilities

Are you confused about what can be recycled?

Don’t worry… everyone is! The thing is, in every destination, and sometimes even in different suburbs in a single city, ‘recycling’ is done differently.

The frustrating thing about managing waste from event to event, is that in each location, town, city, municipal government area, waste is handled differently, and in some cases less than optimal services are available.

You’re not going mad. It just that the type of recycling system depends on the facilities and technology the government or the private sector have decided to invest in.

The key is to find out how waste is processed locally so that you can be certain your at-event waste segregation and logistics will match. Do this by asking your cleaning contractor or the venue. Be aware that sometimes they won’t truly know. So if you’ve got a large enough likely amount of resources you want to make sure are properly recovered, then you need to do a little digging yourself. See some questions to ask MRFs at the bottom of this lesson.

Take the time to understand the why’s and how’s of what is happening with waste locally, don’t just import your own systems. 

Your decisions regarding onsite resource segregation need to be made with consideration for what types of local facilities are available.

The good news is there is barely a destination with ‘poor waste performance’ that doesn’t have an active group trying to change this. Use your event to help build key messages and programmes to reinforce the change local people and agencies are trying to make. 

The MRF

Your mixed recyclable materials may often be transported from the event site or venue to an intermediary facility, known as a ‘transfer station’, before heading to the final to materials recovery facility, (MRF – pronounced MERF!). This is where all materials are sorted out into their own kind. 

MRFs are ingenious places and I encourage you to find out how any MRF’s near you operate. 

There are suckers and blowers, magnets and conveyor belts, lines of people, and machines that whiz and whir.

Each type of recyclable material is sent shooting off in a different direction, contaminants being extracted at each step along the way.

You may find the venue you choose, or the waste management service you engage, already has contracts with a particular waste haulage firm, which in turn may be connected to a specific treatment facility.

Events held in public spaces with the support of the local municipality may find they are locked into using the local government waste services.

You need to know these details to effectively influence the type of waste generated and to plan how you will manage it onsite to optimise the offsite processing. 

Most MRFs don’t want plastic bags for example, and what is more often require their waste loose rather than bagged – so if your system is to bag and tie all your recyclable waste, you may need to put an additional step in to slash and empty bags into skips or trucks.

Don’t just collect the waste, think you’re doing an awesome job, close your eyes, hold your breath and hope everything will be OK once you wave goodbye to the recycling truck at the back gate. 

Manual separation

In some places the process is more manual. In the video above, this is a ‘manual MRF’ in Brasil that I visited for an event, where we literally watched our materials from the event be delivered into the MRF and go down the line into satisfying sorting.  

I was very much in my happy place touring that facility!

Mechanical Biological Treatment

Some destinations may have what’s known as a ‘mechanical biological treatment’ (MBT) facility where all waste mixed together (including general waste and food waste) is and the various materials extracted, including biodegradable waste.

Transfer Stations

Sometimes your waste will first stop off at a transfer station, and mixed with other’s waste,  and then transported en-masse to the MRF for segregation and onward processing.

In these transfer stations, sometimes your waste will be ‘tipped’ onto a big sorting floor and a worker using a grabber machine will decide on where the good ‘batches’ of recyclables are in the lot on the floor. 

Be aware if your waste goes through a transfer station and understand the best way to present your waste to ensure it is chosen for the onward journey to the MRF.

What the MRF will take?

Because of the variety of technologies used to segregate mixed recycling, and to eventually process those materials, different facilities need the waste presented to them in different ways.

You may not need to personally tour the facility (here’s me doing just that….), but if not you, then your cleaning contractor or the facilities management team at the venue or site need to have the answers and recommendations for you.

Match Materials With Facilities


The alignment of these 3 things is critical to your event Zero Waste success.

There is no sourcing a ‘recyclable’ item and feeling great about it if you cannot actually find anywhere to recycle it locally.

Ask them the dirty detail!

Ask the MRF, recycling processor, local council, waste contractor or waste manager to supply you with a list of items they will recycle so that you can work backwards in making your purchasing decisions and managing what waste will be generated in the first place. 

You can then put in the most appropriate requirements to traders and participants, prepare the best way to present bin stations and signage, and work out the onsite treatment and separation of waste. 

Download the Questionnaire now.