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At last duty of care goes digital

John Glover

Figures from the Environment Agency (EA) suggest that around 23 million Waste Transfer Notes (WTNs) are completed every year in the UK. Traditional, but somewhat cumbersome, the system has always required extensive administration time. An overhaul that brought the system into the 21st century couldn’t come soon enough as far as the Bywaters team was concerned.

We are often blinkered when considering new plant; sort lines, shredders, eddy currents and trommels are our stock in trade. But new computers and software can make just as much difference to the efficiency of waste management systems. The EA’s pilot Electronic Duty of Care (eDOC) scheme, which has been developed as a digital replacement for the standard WTN, is one such example.

Bywaters was one of the first companies to join the eDOC trial. With more than 68 vehicles providing commercial and industrial waste management solutions across London and the south east, we were keen to explore what the system could do. We wanted to evaluate whether it could combine reduced administration times while adding value to our customers.

“Bywaters provides clients with a simple online resource to see how and where their waste has been handled and where it has ended up”

Until this point, we had persevered with the standard WTN system. Although time-consuming for waste producers, carriers and disposers, the bureaucratic system provided (and still provides) an end-to-end paper trail showing how waste is being handled and where it ends up. But all the information is retrospective and relies on excellent and regular contact between all parties, with a heavy responsibility falling on drivers to complete and log information.

Anyone outside the waste management sector might be surprised that it has taken until 2010 to get as far as a digital alternative, albeit on a trial basis. The fact is that, even five years ago, only the larger firms in our industry were in a position to instigate a digital alternative - and even then it was difficult to join up all sectors due to the huge differences in computer capacity. Our experience of the eDOC trial shows that this mis-match of computing capability has now largely been overcome, and that we are now in a position to move towards a paperless (online) system.

The eDOC system, which is based on a handheld device similar to that used by parcel delivery firms and which communicates directly with the operator’s back office, enables commercial, industrial and construction waste data to be collected electronically. The system captures a variety of essential data such as the tonnage, type of waste, place of origin and destination. It also has the ability to photograph the waste and transmit the image directly back to the admin/sales team.

By signing up to this trial system, Bywaters provides clients with a simple online resource to see how and where their waste has been handled and where it has ended up. They have immediate access to real-time waste data which they can use to complete essential waste diversion reports. It will also feed into their waste, environmental and CSR policies.

As well as providing an excellent data resource, for waste management companies like us the system improves efficiencies. While drivers are still responsible for the electronic system, they no longer have to ensure that information is supplied to the administration team because this happens automatically. Importantly, the margin for errors is reduced, and the speed with which administration and invoicing tasks are carried out are improved.

At Bywaters, the benefits of the eDOC system are threefold: less paper generation and archive storage; faster administration turnaround times resulting in quicker invoicing; and an electronic proof of service providing customers with real-time accurate data. The trial has been extremely successful for us. I have no doubt that the final system will fulfil a real need within the waste management sector. It has always been essential to provide proof of waste destination; now the information is available at the click of a button, and in real time too.

John Glover is managing director at Bywaters

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