Oxford digital company wins government funding to help tackle waste crime

Anthesis

Leading Oxford-based sustainability consultancy Anthesis UK is one of two companies awarded up to £500,000 each to build and test the UK’s first comprehensive digital waste tracking solution.

Anthesis now has a year to produce a private beta tested version of its system. The project is part of the second phase of Defra’s GovTech Catalyst waste tracking competition, which sees an initial five companies from phase one whittled down to Anthesis and one other.

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.

Anthesis’ system for tracking waste, called Vastum, would digitise the current paper-based system of waste transfer notes, consignment notes and other documentation required by legislation. Each waste transfer or movement would be captured and treated as a transaction between three parties – the waste producer, waste carrier and the waste management site receiving it.

Each waste movement would be allocated a unique digital transaction ID. Users would be able to scan QR codes on mobile devices to record the ID, making transactions faster and far less open to errors. Every transaction would be linked in the system using a combination of operator data and algorithms based on historic, site specific information. Artificial intelligence will allow the system to learn and improve over time.

The ambition is that Vastum will track waste in close to real time. This would allow the system to more promptly alert regulators to illegal activities, enabling them to take action and protect the environment. For the first time, government, industry and other stakeholders would also have comprehensive data on which to base and monitor policy and make the investment decisions necessary to deliver the infrastructure required for a circular economy.

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.”

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.”

The approach behind the system was inspired by feedback from stakeholders across the waste sector combined with practical knowledge of regulatory reporting and how waste is collected, treated and transported, plus the needs of the wide range of users who will benefit from an electronic tracking system.

Anthesis and the other  company, Edinburgh-based Topolytics, will use extensive research and testing across a wide range of businesses and organisations during every stage of development, to ensure that the digital waste tracking solutions are fit for purpose.