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UK on track to find smarter waste solutions

Two companies in the UK’s GovTech Catalyst Waste Tracking challenge have been awarded funding to build prototypes of a comprehensive digital waste solution.

Illegal waste activity impacts the UK economy by £600m
Illegal waste activity impacts the UK economy by £600m

Sustainability services and solutions consultancy, Anthesis UK, and waste data analytics company, Topolytics, have each been awarded up to £500,000 to build prototypes of the UK’s first comprehensive digital waste tracking solution.


Both companies are contenders in the second stage of the GovTech Catalyst Waste Tracking challenge run by the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) launched to entice private technology companies to deliver innovative solutions for public sector challenges. Funding for this comes from the government’s £20m GovTech catalyst fund.


According to DEFRA, illegal waste activity impacts the UK economy by around £600 million annually, and current systems for tracking household and commercial waste are outdated and largely paper-based. An independent review into organised waste crime commissioned by the Home Office last year found that the lack of digital record-keeping is exploited by organised criminals who mislabel waste to avoid landfill tax or illegally export it.


Prototype solutions


Both companies, picked from a shortlist of five in the latest stage of the Cabinet Office’s GovTech Catalyst competition, will aim to prove the feasibility of using emerging technology to record and track individual movements of waste through the economy.


They will each create a UK-wide digitalised system that includes all international waste shipments, tracking waste prior to shipping through to the final destination. The prototypes will also enable environmental regulators to analyse and inspect data, be field-tested and ready for expert review in beta version within 12 months.


Anthesis’ waste tracker system called Vastum sets out to digitise the current paper-based system of waste transfer notes, consignment notes, and other legally required documentation. Each waste transfer movement would be captured and treated as a transaction between three parties – the waste producer, waste carrier and the receiving waste management site.


Simone Aplin, technical director at Anthesis, said: “We are thrilled to further develop and test Vastum. We believe it will deliver economic and environmental benefits that are truly transformational. A successful system will significantly reduce the administrative burden for the sector and generate the data needed to tackle waste crime, inform policy and guide vital investment in the circular economy.”


Illegal waste activity impacts the UK economy by around £600 million annually, and current systems for tracking household and commercial waste are outdated and largely paper-based.


Topolytics is addressing the challenge through a data-driven approach, building a system that tracks all inert and hazardous waste from UK households, local authorities, businesses and the construction sector.


Working with Ordnance Survey, Google Cloud and SAP, and utilising its WasteMap analytics platform, Topolytics will be able to collect and analyse data from a variety of different sources, which with the application of data science, mapping and geographic analytics, identifies and qualifies the sources, types of waste and disposal locations – making this complex system of materials movements visible and thus unlocking greater value.


Environment minister Rebecca Pow said: “Both companies put forward impressive proposals to help modernise the waste system and help level the playing field by ensuring all businesses are adopting legitimate waste management practices. This is great news for the environment but bad news for those determined to exploit the system.”


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