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Data drive offers smarter approach to strategy

The need for comprehensive data to develop strategies and policies has never been more acute in the resource and waste sector, both at home and in the wider world, and there have been signif­icant developments in recent weeks.

Writing in the September 2017 issue of MRW, Simone Aplin, principal con­sultant and waste data specialist at Ricardo Energy & Environment, summed up the issue: “Accurate, gran­ular and timely data on the type and quantity of waste generated in the UK and how this is managed is fundamen­tal to delivering the infrastructure needed to enable us to manage waste in the most sustainable way, meet our obligations and implement a more cir­cular economy (CE).”

In 2015, she had been commissioned by the then organiser of RWM to pre­pare a report on the challenges of UK waste data, and found significant gaps concerning the arisings of commercial & industrial and construction & demo­lition waste.

Aplin’s report described a patchwork situation, with extensive data generally being available in the public sector but much less so in the private. One chal­lenge with the latter, for example, is commercial confidentiality because waste managers are understandably loathe to share data that gives others any competitive advantage. But this wariness can be overcome.

MRW understands that a Defra working group on data within the waste and resource sector grew out of this research. The idea for such a group appealed to officials who were prepar­ing for number of significant policy developments this year, such as the 25-year environment plan, the forth­coming resource and waste strategy and the CE package from Brussels.

At the latest meeting of this group, members were told of a pilot project to develop a national materials database. It is being led by the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy depart­ment, which is increasingly interested in resource efficiency. As the saying goes: if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.

As exclusively reported by MRW in December, a steering group has been set up to work with the Office for National Statistics, with the goal of putting into the public domain data on waste and raw materials needed by industry to make investment decisions. It will iden­tify what data exists, what is required, where there are data gaps and how they might be addressed.

It is thought likely that such a project could support the growth of new separation technologies and other com­mercial opportunities.

Additionally, the National Infrastruc­ture Commission has charged environ­mental consultancy Anthesis with reviewing the UK’s waste sector to “weigh the costs of separation and dif­ferent treatment/disposal pathways” as part of its review of UK infrastructure.

Defra is also seeking to develop a greater understanding of the extent and composition of C&I waste, with a review of the reporting methodology, including definition of waste at transfer stations.

Defra and the EA are evaluating the potential for greater electronic tracking of waste, building on the voluntary Edoc scheme, which has not been gen­erally embraced. The Discovery project, due to conclude the first phase in March, is looking at how the current paper-based system of WTNs can be simplified to deliver benefits through­out the waste supply chain. The EA has been testing industry views.

The response to the original Edoc has been lukewarm in some quarters, notably from larger waste managers which have invested in their own sophisticated systems which do not nec­essarily synchronise into Edoc.

Meanwhile, an extra £30m for the EA, announced in the Budget, will extend existing multi-agency efforts to tackle organised crime gangs in the sec­tor. Marie Fallon, director of regulated industry at the EA, told MRW: “This tops up existing funding and helps us to have certainty in terms of our longer-term planning.”

She said efforts were concentrated on deterrence and collaboration with other public agencies, especially HMRC, on data and other information.

Likely source of CRMs in the European economy

Research sponsored by the EU has produced the first Europe-wide assessment of valuable secondary materials recovered by the ‘urban mining’ of scrap vehicles, batteries, WEEE and mining wastes, and it has put the annual total at 18 million tonnes. The work undertaken by the ProSUM project gives an indication of sources of CRMs in the economy.

The leader is Repic environmental affairs manager Sarah Downes: “A big part of the project has been about developing a classification system to ensure we’re not comparing apples with pears.”

Commercial data can be an issue. Where organisations have shared commercially sensitive data, non-disclosure agreements have been set up between the data provider and a few limited key researchers in the project. Only these people ever see the raw data and it is aggregated in ways which protect the original source.

A year ago, MRW was told of a knowledge gap in the automobile and component sector, where there was less publicly available data on the CRMs in vehicles compared with EEE. This has meant that it has only been possible to estimate composition for some elements. The position has been improved but, as with any data-gathering exercise, some of the data presented are of lower confidence.

Downes said: “We do have some rich data on specific components and elements such as screens and printed circuit boards. Previous research has tended to focus on CRMs or precious metals, so there is more comparable data for some components but not others.”

Where there is ‘good data’ for components, they are shown in the platform and the user can see the source, assumptions and confidence level. There is also greater transparency about the data.

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