A dirty MRF accepts a mixed solid waste stream and then proceeds to separate out designated recyclable materials through a combination of manual and mechanical sorting. The sorted recyclable materials may undergo further processing required to meet technical specifications established by end-markets while the balance of the mixed waste stream is sent to a disposal facility such as alandfill.
The percentage of residuals (unrecoverable recyclable or non-program materials) from a properly operated clean MRF supported by an effective public outreach and education program should not exceed 10% by weight of the total delivered stream and in many cases it can be significantly below 5%. A dirty MRF recovers between 5% and 45% of the incoming material as recyclables, then the remainder is landfilled or otherwise disposed. A dirty MRF can be capable of higher recovery rates than a clean MRF, since it ensures that 100% of the waste stream is subjected to the sorting process, and can target a greater number of materials for recovery than can usually be accommodated by sorting at the source. However, the dirty MRF process is necessarily labor-intensive, and a facility that accepts mixed solid waste is usually more challenging and more expensive to site.