£1 million boost for UK smart waste tracking

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Up to £1 million of government funding is being awarded to help tackle waste crime here in the UK and prevent illegal waste from being shipped abroad.

Illegal waste activity drains the UK economy of around £600 million every year and the current systems for tracking household and commercial waste are outdated and largely paper-based.

An independent review into serious and 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.

Now two cutting-edge technology companies have been selected to build prototypes for the UK’s first comprehensive digital waste tracking system. Digital specialists Anthesis and waste analytics company Topolytics will receive the grant as part of the government’s £20million GovTech Catalyst fund which supports the development of innovative solutions.

The commitment to clamp down on illegal movements of waste at home and abroad, including by introducing compulsory electronic tracking of waste, is included in the landmark Environment Bill introduced to Parliament last week (15 October).

The Bill also includes plans to extend producer responsibility; new charges for other single-use plastic items; and clear product labelling to help consumers make purchasing decisions that support the market for more sustainable products.

Environment Minister Rebecca Pow said:

Waste crime causes economic, environmental and social harm in every community it blights. That’s why our transformative Environmental Bill will be a driving force for change – improving the way we manage our waste by creating powers to introduce an electronic waste tracking system.

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.

Minister for Implementation Simon Hart said:

Cutting down on waste is a top concern for the public, so I’m delighted to see these innovative proposals moving forward. They’re a great example of why we’re investing in the GovTech Catalyst programme to improve public services and solve some of society’s biggest challenges.

Technology such as block chain, the use of electronic chips and sensors, has been put forward as possible solutions for tracking waste. Anthesis plans to use QR codes on mobile devices to record the ID of consignments, so transactions will be faster and error free, whilst Topolytics plans to utilise data from a range of devices including apps and sensors on waste containers or vehicles.

The GovTech Catalyst Waste Tracking Challenge project is run by Defra, working with the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA), Natural Resources Wales and Northern Ireland Environment Agency.

The project is part of a wider £20million GovTech Catalyst fund set up to help tech firms deliver innovative solutions to public sector challenges overseen by the Cabinet Office’s Government Digital Service with support from Innovate UK.

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 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.

Background

Funding for the GovTech Catalyst competition is under SBRI (the Small Business Research Initiative), which aims to bring together government and businesses to find innovative solutions to public sector challenges

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