Five companies have been awarded up to £80,000 by the Government to test new ways of tracking waste digitally in order to solve “patchy and unreliable” data.
One or two will be chosen to get up to £500,000 to fully develop a prototype once the three-month feasibility stage is complete.
The five companies (see box) will seek to digitise the annual movements of 200 million tonnes of waste and 20 million transactions to establish how it is generated, handled and disposed of – information the Government had admitted is at present incomplete.
Results are expected to help with action against waste crime and highlight opportunities for companies to join up their waste operations.
Environment minister Therese Coffey said: “Congratulations to the winning projects. I look forward to seeing their innovative waste tracking solutions which will help us to meet these ambitions and play their part in helping us achieve zero avoidable waste in the UK by 2050.”
The eventual prototypes will be funded through a second phase of the Cabinet GovTech Catalyst, which seeks digital solutions to problems in various industries.
Lack of information on waste was highlighted in the Government’s resources and waste strategy, which said data was “patchy and unreliable” and, while pockets of in-depth knowledge existed, “there are few systems in place for systematising, collating and converting this knowledge into data”.
It said the situation had not improved in the past 20 years, and “stifles those trying to become more resource efficient” if they could not tell how much waste there was or find its whereabouts.
The strategy called for a “step change to produce data on resource inputs, stocks and flows, and expand our knowledge of commercial, industrial, construction and demolition wastes.
“We want robust, effective and transparent systems to collect and report data, to enable everyone to reap the benefits of a move to a more circular economy.”
The recently formed UK Resources Council, chaired by Suez UK chief executive David Palmer-Jones, has also recognised the problem, and set up a working group on data as part of its efforts towards securing an industrial sector deal with the Government.
The waste data contenders
This project will design and test the feasibility of Vastum, a system to securely record all waste movements effectively tacking these to their destinations and ensuring waste producers and managers comply with regulations and help regulators act against crime. It brings together disparate data into one system.
Dsposal’s KnoWaste project would provide a free app useable by anyone dealing with waste from picking a licensed waste company to checking their credentials and paying when work is complete. It would also have an open data standard for a central database connecting the separate systems currently in use.
The company’s System for Waste Enhancement, Evaluation and Tracking is intended to demonstrate the feasibility of creating a big data, machine learning and artificial intelligence service for waste.
It would record and track individual waste movements, help maximise the value extracted from resources, validate collectors and receivers against registered lists and capture international movements.
This firm creates flexible integrated circuits thinner than a human hair that can be easily embedded into any surface. These assign each item - for example packaging material - a unique identifier that stays with it allowing, for example, a wholesaler or retailer to check authenticity and provenance, and to deliver details of local recycling information.
Topolytics maps the generation, movement and fate of commercial and industrial waste materials globally through the value chain.
It will work with Ordnance Survey to analyse household, municipal, commercial, construction and hazardous waste and build maps of the waste movements system across four example areas of the UK, giving a range of metropolitan, rural and industrial environments.