An Edinburgh-based data analytics company has been awarded £500,000 to build a realtime UK-wide waste tracking platform.

Software company Topolytics specialises in providing data-driven insights into the flows of waste, which is worth $4.5trillion in potential additional global economic output, according to business consulting giant Accenture.

The company, which won the ‘Grand Prize’ in the Google Cloud and SAP Circular Economy 2030 Contest, launched at the World Economic Forum in February 2019, will create a system that will monitor and analyse all waste transactions across the UK every year. The system will rely on data from multiple sources encompassing household, commercial, municipal, construction and hazardous waste materials. Where the data does not exist in digital format Topolytics will help third party providers to generate it.

The system will enable the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and the environmental regulators in England, Scotland (SEPA), Wales and Northern Ireland to generate an up-to-date view of patterns of waste movements, enable better oversight, drive improvements in the waste system and support efforts to counter waste crime. 

The project is administered by DEFRA under the UK GovTech Catalyst programme. It builds on a Phase 1 feasibility study undertaken by Topolytics in early 2019 in which the company collaborated with the Ordnance Survey to define how the waste tracking system could work.  Topolytics and consultancy company Anthesis each receive an award as part of the government’s £20million GovTech Catalyst fund which supports the development of innovative solutions.

Mike Groves, founder and CEO, said today: “According to DEFRA there are around 500 million waste transactions over the course of the year, but data volumes are not the issue; the big opportunity is around understanding, often in realtime, how material flows in the economy, enabling us to make better and more informed decisions around recycling and the environment. At the moment the data is pretty poor and it hampers efforts to reduce waste crime, improve recycling rates and reduce waste crime as well as leakage from the waste system.”

He added: “This is a truly ground-breaking project and one that we are proud to be working on. It will transform waste regulation and the industry in the UK and has significant international potential. It further validates our use of machine learning, mapping, sensor systems and cutting-edge software to enable the waste industry to maximise the utility of materials and enable the circular economy.”

In this Phase 2 project, Topolytics will work again with the Ordnance Survey and new partners Google Cloud and SAP, to build a working version of a data driven tracking system, based around the company’s WasteMap analytics platform.  The system will track all inert and hazardous waste from households, local authorities, businesses and the construction sector.  It will ingest, normalise and analyse data from many sources, including invoicing records, weighbridge and bin weighing systems, vehicle telematics, ‘internet of bins’ sensors and smart labelling systems. 

A key collaborator will be PragmatIC, a world leader in ultra-low cost flexible electronics, who also participated in Phase 1.  PragmatIC will be deploying Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) labels, based on its unique flexible integrated circuits, to track the movement of waste via item-level digital identities.  PragmatIC will be deploying its labels to track the movement of used tyres, a significant waste stream and focus of waste crime.

In May 2019, Topolytics’ approach was further validated by winning the Google Cloud and SAP Circular Economy 2030 contest.  Chosen from more than 250 applicants worldwide, Topolytics impressed both companies and a stellar judging panel with the scale if its ambition to take big data into the global waste industry.  Topolytics has since been working with both companies and will be combining their AI and machine learning technologies in WasteMap.

WasteMap is used by a growing number of corporate waste producers and recyclers in Europe, USA and Asia to support better commercial and environmental outcomes for waste materials and assets.

The waste tracking project forms part of the landmark Environment Bill, which embodies the Government’s ambition to move towards a circular waste economy. The suite of measures also include: extended 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.