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Material flow map 'essential' for tackling waste

The waste sector has been urged to collaborate more on the collection and use of data to build a ‘flow map’ of secondary materials in the UK.

The call came from Sam Reeve, chief executive of Resource Futures, at an event in Bristol to celebrate the management consultancy’s 10th birthday.

Reeve said digital data collection was changing the world but the waste sector was not sufficiently exploiting the opportunities.

“Some organisations are light years ahead when it comes to knowing what is happening with the resources they manage, use and dispose,” he said. ”The status quo seems to be a general acceptance that waste is a problem too big to solve without the intervention of Government.

Collecting and sharing the right data on waste resources would open our eyes to what it is we are trying to manage

”Together we could build a material flow map of the UK – there is a lot of data out there that we can use, but there are also black holes that we need to fill and we need to get the right people around the table to make that happen.”

Reeve said that data, and applying that knowledge, would inform:

  • What infrastructure we need and where
  • What collection systems we need and where
  • What technical innovations would add greatest value
  • What communications would add greatest value and where in the supply chain
  • What people are thinking and doing

“Collecting and sharing the right data on waste resources would open our eyes to what it is we are trying to manage. There is huge potential to link the technology we use within the waste sorting and treatment industry and to add to it and feed off that data.”

We could use weekly shopping data to predict waste arisings

Taking food as an example, he said the Internet of Things would make it possible to monitor what was being bought, conditions in the fridge and the recipes that are being planned. Businesses would also monitor what waste was being disposed of and when.

Such information could support production and manufacture needs, improve retail logistics and target collection and treatment.

“It will ultimately allow us to reduce waste and then manage waste better,” he said. “As an industry we could even use weekly shopping data to predict waste arisings.”

He acknowledged there were concerns about ‘Big Brother’ and commercial confidentiality for businesses, but they were challenges that could be addressed.

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