Dr Michael Groves, founder of Topolytics - an analytics company that uses mapping and data science to make the world’s waste visible, verifiable and valuable - discusses a new smart waste tracking system that can help companies discover their waste ‘truth’ and act on better insights


n the early 2000s the UK was exporting 200,000 tonnes of plastic and 500,000 tonnes

of paper and cardboard per year to China. This in turn was generating a shortage of feedstock for the domestic recycling sector. Leap forward to 1 January 2018, since when Europe and the USA have had to curb shipments of low-grade plastics and paper to China. Consequently, the domestic recycling sector is now faced with significant capacity constraints and investment challenges. Globally, the recycling picture is equally poor.

According to a survey from software giant, SAP, 61 per cent of people globally do not have access to or know how to use recycling infrastructure. At the same time there are growing public concerns about ocean plastics and regulations on recycled content in packaging, as well as a greater focus on producer responsibility. This alongside higher raw materials costs and scarcity is focusing industry on the need to rethink the use and recovery of waste and by-products. In all cases, the need for better data on waste and what happens to this material is the basis for further action that can enable greater recovery and re-use of this material. Answering the question ‘what happens to my

waste’ is not, however, straightforward. The range and volume of materials collected, moved, sold, processed or disposed by the waste management industry is significant. Globally waste and recycling is a big industry with listed corporates, lots of smaller operators, traders, processors and a significant informal sector in developing countries. In the UK alone, according to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), we generate 200 million tonnes of waste annually, including household, municipal, commercial, industrial, hazardous and construction material. This material is handled by 100,000 registered waste carriers and processors and handled, stored, processed or


disposed through 100,000 licensed waste sites. In order to help manufacturers and those

operating industrial processes make more informed decisions about what happens to waste material and maximise its value, requires the use of big data analytics. Topolytics combines experience of building and running recycling companies with cutting edge software and data science to build a version of the waste ‘truth’ that helps waste producing companies, recyclers, investors and regulators act on better insights. It does this by ingesting waste data from multiple sources, qualifying and checking this data before applying data science and machine learning to generate real time analysis and reporting within its WasteMap platform. WasteMap is the basis for a prototype smart

waste tracking system that has been specified by DEFRA and the UK national environmental regulators. The system will be mandatory and will require waste producers and the waste industry to report on all waste that it moves and process – as it happens. WasteMap is also at the heart of the COP26

Waste Insights project that is generating a view of materials flows through and out of Scotland for SAP customers and co-innovation partners, including BrewDog, Coca-Cola European Partners and DS Smith. The project was launched by Topolytics and SAP, alongside the Scottish Government’s circular economy agency Zero Waste Scotland, to demonstrates the power of innovative technologies in identifying the opportunities to recapture waste materials and accelerate the transition to a circular economy. The partners are trying to understand what

happens to industrial by-products and post- consumer packaging waste. These insights allow them to design interventions that drive greater recovery of these materials, enable resource efficiencies, reduce carbon emissions and

identify cost savings on waste prevention. Scotland is the ideal base for this initial project, as it offers a supportive and advanced policy environment on circular economy and carbon emissions. However, SAP, Topolytics and the companies involved can see the benefit of extending the scale and reach of the analysis to cover global operations. “As part of our Net Zero Carbon plan we are

driving waste out of our business and finding ways to maximise the use of by-products and packaging,” said Martin Dickie, co-founder at BrewDog Plc. “Measuring carbon impact across our supply chains is also vital - including that of our brewery, distribution and retail waste. The starting point is understanding what happens to the material that is handled by our recycling and waste management partners. Working with SAP and Topolytics is giving us a clear view on where this material goes and, importantly, what happens to it - in real time. The resulting insights feed into our zero-waste plan and supports our drive to be completely transparent and open in everything that we do.” Topolytics’ ambition is to make the world's

waste visible, verifiable and valuable. This starts with helping manufacturers and other waste producing companies to understanding what is happening to processing by-products or packaging material. This can also drive efficiencies and enable new business models across the whole waste system and generate better commercial and environmental outcomes globally.


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