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Data crunching gives results

With innovation and efficiency - the watchwords for those in council waste teams - Gayle Gander looks at how South Staffordshire council’s smart use of data is saving it £380,000 a year in waste management

By using spatial data intelligently, South Staffordshire Council has implemented a waste management solution that has delivered significant tangible and intangible savings.  In doing so, it also won the Citizen Award, and the 2013 Exemplar Award at GeoPlace’s recent annual Exemplar Awards.

GeoPlace works with local authorities to create and maintain the National Address Gazetteer infrastructure and the National Street Gazetteer for England and Wales, providing definitive sources of publicly-owned spatial address and street data.

Local authorities send GeoPlace all of the address and street information changes that occur in their areas and this is incorporated into the national datasets that GeoPlace hold.  Ordnance Survey then distribute this address change information to a wide range of public sector bodies under the Public Sector Mapping Agreement.

The volume of change is huge, with local authorities across England and Wales sending through 2 million changes every year through the maintenance of their Local Land and Property Gazetteer (LLPG).  Every local authority has an LLPG, which is the address index of all land and property within their administrative areas.  Proper management of the LLPG is vital in ensuring that services such as waste management are delivered efficiently.

The largest valued contract South Staffordshire council manages is the waste management contract.  The waste management team at the council was required to implement major service changes within a short space of time.

The project, delivered through two phases, involved:

  • full integration with route optimisation software to develop a service review and range of scenario modelling to understand optimal routing;
  • distribution of 42,500 new wheeled bins;
  • development and implementation of 150 new routes in preparation for a new principal disposal facility, involving a collection change for two thirds of properties across the district; approximately 30,000 properties.

Distribution of the new bins was planned using the LLPG as the basis.  As the LLPG contains information on which properties are residential, commercial or communal dwellings, the LLPG was vital in identifying the appropriate properties for distribution of the bins.  Once the properties were identified, maps were created for the waste crews to deliver the bins.

In the second phase of the project, working closely with the waste contractor, the council developed 150 individual routes for the collection of non-recyclable, recyclable and organic waste to optimise existing collection routes. This involved a collection change for two thirds of properties across the district, approximately 30,000 properties and required further promotion across the authority to communicate the changes. 

The information and maps were uploaded to the council’s online collection calendar system, enabling the customer services team to deal with the thousands of queries regarding the distribution by retrieving property level data within the LLPG instantly.  Its customer services staff are now able to view, in real-time, the operational progress of individual collection rounds, ensuring that complaints and requests for information can be dealt with quickly.

All in all, a large volume of data was incorporated into the master dataset, including the provision of additional containers, collection times obtained by vehicle tracking data, distribution of assisted collections, locations of disposal sites, participation rates at particular times of year, legal driving breaks and integrated transport network (ITN) data specific for a refuse collection vehicle (such as the presence of low bridges, single sided collections only and time restricted windows).

The dataset is now maintained constantly by the local authority to ensure that the council can efficiently monitor ongoing service changes, complete relevant statutory indicators and respond to customer queries much more effectively.

A full service review was conducted prior to the procurement and distribution of blue wheeled bins for the purposes of commingled kerbside recycling.

A three-bin system offered greater scope for fleet and crew interchangeability, as existing bespoke collection systems would be harmonised. The council felt that by consulting widely prior to service change, to ensure resident buy-in and stipulating key requirements clearly within the contract specification, the optimum outcome would be achieved.

The following benefits were realised:

  • Improved route efficiencies have been instrumental in delivering contract savings of £380,000 per annum for at least the next seven years;
  • 99.7% of blue wheeled bins were delivered direct to properties across a rural district within the four week scheduled window. The provision of bespoke maps, generated with contractor input was key to this success and the contractor now uses this approach as a model when mobilising similar contracts with local authorities across the country;
  • The weight of material collected for recycling at the kerbside has increased by 25%. Extrapolated over the financial year 2013/14, an additional 2,250 tonnes of household waste will be diverted from landfill with clear environmental and economic benefits for the Staffordshire tax payer;
  • Service satisfaction levels for waste and recycling services, as monitored by the annual Resident’s Panel Survey, have reached 94%, the highest figure yet recorded for this service;
  • During the roll-out of the blue wheeled bin, the bespoke online collection calendar tool received 4,000 unique page hits within a four week period. It is anticipated the forthcoming district re-route will generate at least a similar amount of website traffic and the availability of timely and accurate data will enable the council to move towards this source and protect existing customer service capacity to deal with more complex enquiries;
  • The use of definition queries within a geographic information system (GIS) has enabled the council and its contractor to identify properties that as a result of the re-route will experience unacceptable disruption.   Additional collections are now targeted at properties that require the service as opposed to blanket collections across the district.

This project represents a key shift in the approach and methodology of waste management services at South Staffordshire Council and this has been wholly facilitated by the use of GIS.

Longer term, the impact of new housing developments can be mapped and apportioned to existing routes appropriately, ensuring compliance with legal driving regulations and enable the council to maintain and improve upon existing high levels of customer satisfaction.

The use of route optimisation software and GIS has enabled the council to devise and deliver appropriate waste management solutions that have improved the customer experience and delivered substantial savings.  

Gayle Gander is head of marketing at GeoPlace, a public sector limited liability partnership between the Local Government Association (LGA) and Ordnance Survey

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