Defra to create UK-wide digital system to collect rubbish information

Department seeks feedback on platform for use by refuse-handlers

Credit: Alan Stanton/CC BY-SA 2.0

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is building a UK-wide digital system to collate information on the 200 million tonnes of waste created each year by homes and businesses.

The platform will form part of new measures via which all organisations that “produce, handle, dispose of or make products from waste” will be legally required to provide data to the government. 

Launching a consultation it hopes will inform the “practical aspects of introducing a digital waste tracking service”, Defra said that this information is currently held in various disparate systems – if it is recorded at all.

“Over 200 million tonnes of waste is produced in the UK each year but there is currently no single or comprehensive way of tracking it, with legislation relating to the transport, management and description of waste being introduced separately over the last 30 or so years,” it said. “Large amounts of data are either not collected or not collated centrally.” 

The department added: “Multiple IT systems collect certain elements of waste tracking data. Some are paper-based, others digital, some are run by private contractors, others by the government, and where use of existing central digital systems is non-mandatory, take up is very low. As a result, it is very difficult to determine what happens to our waste and to have a comprehensive understanding of whether it has been recycled, recovered, or disposed of.”

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Defra is engaged with its counterparts from Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales in creating the new platform, through which the likes of refuse-processors, recycling firms, and waste exporters will be mandated to record data on their operations. The intention is that the platfrom will also enable this information to be made available for access and analysis by regulators, policymakers, businesses, academics, journalists, and the general public.

The consultation process on the creation of the platform is inviting responses until 15 April.

“The purpose of this consultation is to present and seek thoughts on our proposals for this [system],” Defra said. “We will use the feedback to review and refine our proposals which will then be reflected in secondary legislation and shape the digital design of the waste-tracking service.”

Once the digital service is up and running, the department hopes it will benefit law-abiding operators while enabling authorities to better crack down on those who break the rules.

“Joining [the existing] fragmented systems up and replacing paper-based record-keeping will make it much easier and less time consuming for legitimate waste companies to comply with reporting requirements whilst making it much harder for rogue operators to compete in the industry and commit waste crime including fly tipping, deliberate misclassification of waste, illegal waste exports and the operation of illegal waste sites,” the department added.

Work on prototypes of the service took place in 2020, supported by backing from the GovTech Catalyst funding programme that aims connect public sector bodies with innovative tech firms and products.


Sam Trendall

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