Technology-led companies are starting to pop up in the waste sector. MRW takes a closer look at some start-ups which have identified a range of interesting new business niches.
building waste dumped in moss side
Joe Rogers, founder of digital waste collection app Bukkawaste, set up the business after noticing an increasing number of requests from domestic households for residual waste collections while he was working at the family commercial waste business. It got to the point where the business was getting two to three requests a day for collections from householders, which it had to turn down because it was unable to service them.
Rogers attributes the increased demand for private waste collections with reduced frequency of council collections. He decided to break away from the family business and build a company himself to service this emerging market, believing the trend in reduced frequency residual waste collections would increase.
Inspired by digital technology such Uber for taxi services and Just Eat for takeaways, he decided to create a similar app for waste services. “There is not anything in the UK which is an application where you can book and pay for [waste] collection – there is stuff in the [US] but it is more like a digital broker where it will find you a waste provider,” he says.
Bukkawaste was launched in December 2017 and now has up to 2,000 users, with around 30% of these using the service frequently. Currently it operates in Greater Manchester, St Helens, Warrington, Wigan and Widnes, and has had calls from as far afield as Liverpool. Users simply download the app and book and pay for a collection as and when they need it. Currently, the charge is a flat rate of £10 a bin, with an extra premium for garden waste.
Rogers explains that smartphones have “revolutionised multiple industries” and believes that now is the time for the same in the waste sector. Customers request the service when they have filled their residual bins and cannot wait until the next council collection, or when the council refuses to empty a recycling or garden waste bin because it is contaminated.
With many local authorities operating paid-for garden waste collections, there is also demand for ad hoc garden waste collections by those who have not signed up for a regular council service.
Bukkawaste’s regular customers are mainly larger families, with others using the service around twice a year. Rogers speculates whether residual household waste services of the future will be charged for and serviced entirely by the private sector.
Bukkawaste therefore fills the requirement for being a ‘safety net’ and offers the flexibility lacking in council collections.
“We have found that a lot of people can’t keep up with the amount of waste they are generating. Some of our customers are recycling everything and they still have that much residual waste because their families are so big – they can’t wait for the three-weekly collections.”
Rogers is now looking at a number of ways to develop Bukkawaste and the business opportunities around it. This includes developing the platform to host other trusted waste service providers, which would be vetted and checked beforehand. This would offer customers more choice and enable the business to cover more areas around the country without putting more of its own trucks on the road. Businesses who want to be hosted on the platform would pay a monthly subscription.
His plan is for the app to include eventually an element whereby customers can also rate the businesses they have used.
There are also plans for a community recycling fund, where Bukkawaste approaches communities and schools to collect their cardboard in bulk on specific days and then gives a rebate back to the project or school. The app would track who is involved, what has been collected and what has been earned.
Another potential avenue for which Rogers has already had a couple of approaches is to sell or licence a redesigned version of the technology for councils to use as their own system, with their own branding, so that they have their own platform for residents to organise collections for contaminated or missed bins. This would provide a ready-made waste platform for councils, saving them the time, cost and expertise in seeking out or developing such a system for themselves.
Rogers has been looking at broadening out the app so that it offers householders, and possibly businesses, a suite of complementary services such as wheelie bin cleaning.
“Waste is no different from any other industry and it is going to be pushed through the technology routes whether it be me or somebody else that does it,” he says. His strong belief in the business has led to him funding all the development himself and he has even sold
his house to fund the next stage.
Rogers says: “I am of the mindset that if I don’t take the gamble, I would always be wondering if it would have worked. If someone else would have got it out and been successful, I would have been kicking myself. I think technology is definitely the way forward not just in the waste industry but in any industry. It is just phenomenal what technology can bring to the table in terms of business.”
dsposal founders walker and passmore
Manchester-based Dsposal, which was launched in March 2018, is a technology platform that connects waste producers with licensed waste companies.
The system combines an online directory of all licensed waste companies – taken from the current Environment Agency (EA) database – with a ‘waste thesaurus’ which it has created. As the EA’s public register is an open, free-to-use dataset, the business simply needs to reference the linked data information and its licence.
Dsposal uses its platform to access information on waste installations, waste operations and waste carrier, broker, dealer upper-tier licences. The idea is that it makes it easier for waste producers seeking to dispose of specific types of waste to find local licensed waste companies who are able to handle it.
At its heart is the simplification of finding a licensed waste firm, making it easier to comply with Duty of Care. The system includes all licensed waste operators, but businesses have the option to pay a subscription fee to enhance their profile – for example, to include all their licences and insurance documents on the system. It also notifies businesses when documents are about to expire.
In October, Dsposal became the first tech company to become an ambassador for the ‘Right Waste, Right Place’ campaign, managed by the Environmental Services Association, which is primarily aimed at raising awareness of the Duty of Care legislation among SMEs.
Sophie Walker, chief operating officer and co-founder of Dsposal, explains: “We wanted to create intuitive software that anyone can use to find the right place for their waste. By combining our waste thesaurus with a directory of the EA’s licensed facilities, we have made it easier for SMEs and the general public to avoid unlicensed operators and meet their duty of care.”
Earlier this year, Dsposal commissioned research by Beasley Associates and RGR, with support from the GC Business Growth Hub, into waste crime in Greater Manchester, with a focus on fly-tipping. Part of the research included scanning classified adverts in local newspapers from businesses advertising waste services, where only four of the 34 businesses were found to have verifiable licences.
It also commissioned a YouGov survey of 501 adults in Greater Manchester which found that 49% were unaware that rubbish clearance businesses were legally required to possess a waste carrier’s licence and 78% were unaware that they should receive a waste transfer note as receipt for rubbish cleared.
Tom Passmore, co-founder and chief executive of Dsposal, said: “Lack of awareness means the general public can easily be taken advantage of by those wishing to make a quick buck. Online ads on platforms such as Facebook and Gumtree make it even easier for an illegal operator to get hold of your waste.”
Passmore tells MRW that the company also sees potential in developing bots – software applications that run automated tasks over the internet – for the sector. He has had some conversations with councils about programming bots to answer local questions around waste and recycling.
There is potential, for example, for bots to be able to service groups such as students or Airbnb users, who may need to find out about local council recycling services but would not engage through the usual information channels. Passmore adds that another avenue where technology can be utilised, particularly to help councils, is around translation services so that information on waste and recycling can reach more and typically ‘hard to reach’ segments of the population.
He believes technology can enable householders and businesses to be “passively compliant” with waste requirements by making it “really easy” for them to comply – for example, by ensuring that only licensed waste operators are presented when searching for waste companies, and all the necessary documentation and licences are automatically sent to waste producers to ensure their compliance.