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How to improve data collection

Dan Higgins explains how to improve the accuracy of environmental recordings

Data collection is an important part of the day-to-day management of any waste management site. Complying with permits and regulations is a necessity for all waste management companies. Environmental recordings provide proof to the Environment Agency (EA) that standards are being met and maintained on site, as well as allowing for any potential issues to be dealt with promptly.

Environmental monitoring in the waste management and recycling industry has been a paper-based process for a long time which makes providing accurate and traceable environmental recordings both challenging and time consuming. However, with recent technological developments, it is possible to improve the accuracy of recordings as well as reduce time spent on data collection.

Traditional paper-based data collection methods carry a higher risk of transcription errors which can result in either erroneous readings being supplied to the EA or mean data has to be taken again. This is because data manually recorded in a notebook must be transferred to a spreadsheet at a later stage. Quantitative measurements that have to be recorded include the level and quality of groundwater, surface water and leachate and emissions. In addition, the external environment beyond the boundary of sites is measured qualitatively for litter, noise, odour, flies and dust.

The demand to capture data digitally has been growing in the waste management industry, but it is only recently that monitoring using mobile technology has become both practical and affordable. Using a PDA-based data collection system helps to speed up environmental monitoring by improving the efficiency of the process. It also increases the traceability, quality and accuracy of readings as well as eliminating transcription errors. These are all crucial factors for waste management and environmental companies that require faster and more accurate methods of collecting field data to comply with environmental regulations.

A user-friendly PDA-based data collection system can record a number of variables such as water levels, temperature, pH and electrical conductivity as well as logging additional comments, e.g. if boreholes at landfill sites are blocked or need repairs. Some devices offer a variety of modules to support field infrastructure audits and site inspections. Systems on certain devices can also self-validate by checking environmental data against historic trends and thresholds to ensure inaccurate readings are minimised.

In addition, the date, time and GPS location of when and where the data has been taken can be automatically recorded with a number of systems for all sampling and monitoring activities. This information, along with any photographic evidence, can then be linked with Google Earth which allows the technician to pinpoint any issues of environmental concern. Waste management companies can then take action quickly should there be any issues to reduce the potential impact and cost. These recordings can then be streamed directly to a central server and bespoke data reports can be quickly generated. Plus, the data can be more easily shared with the EA.

Not only does a PDA-based system provide quality environmental data, it can also be used as a source of information to help organisations manage business processes as well as improve health and safety and efficiency. Knowing where, when and who captured the data is a very powerful tool for managers which makes the move to PDA-based data collection system a smart choice.

Dan Higgins is a senior liaison manager at environmental monitoring specialist Enitial

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