Big Data, Big Topic

Friday, April 10, 2015

Daniel Botterill, CEO of Cloud Sustainability, looks at waste data in the context of the circular economy, saying we could sit around and wait for legislation to come to our rescue, or we could get more proactive on the topic.

Wherever we look today data is a big topic, so big it’s called big data. Whether it’s a supermarket gathering data to understand my buying habits so it can get me to spend more money, twitter analytics to condemn political debate, or how many miles Wayne Rooney ran in the first half of the last England match, data and statistics are everywhere.

So, how about data in the context of waste management then? Plenty has been written on the subject including some excellent articles by Alan Potter in recent CIWM Journals but what about data in the context of the circular economy?

Waste data is an incredibly powerful thing. How many tonnes of waste my organisation produces or how much of that we recycle is important but it’s not everything. Waste data should be a tool that will help me understand the success of my strategy, my buying patterns and the true value and utilisation of raw materials that make my business work.

Waste data comes in all shapes and sizes. In the commercial and industrial sectors, we generally see reports once a month from our contractors with an invoice. Some contractors package it well for you; some are not so good at it. This is crucial management information and we need better standards.

But this is just one component of “waste” data. Although significant and a tool that will help me reduce the direct cost of waste management, it doesn’t go far enough. Here is the problem. Waste management is very difficult and rarely a uniform process. Varying costs by treatment methods, different collection and logistical systems, not to mention how do we accurately cost the inherent value of the materials we are actually wasting?

“We could sit around and wait for legislation to come to our rescue, or we could get more proactive on the topic. I think a strong place to start would be the establishment of a cross-industry benchmarking club for waste.”

If you consider our cousins the Energy Managers, they have it easy don’t they? It’s called metering. Unfortunately, this isn’t an option for helping us get better waste data, but we can certainly learn from the simplicity of the process.

Examining energy in a bit more detail, legislation actually has a pretty positive spin on prevention, improvement and efficiency, particularly in the case of the Energy Savings Opportunities Scheme (ESOS). Organisations that qualify for ESOS must carry out ESOS assessments every 4 years. These assessments are audits of the energy used by their buildings, industrial processes and transport to identify cost-effective energy saving measures. Fantastic idea, you could see how a scheme on waste could greatly benefit waste producers in terms of cost savings but also, generating better quality data.

The Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) is another fantastic idea, working with thousands of companies to help them ensure that effective carbon emissions and reduction strategy is in place to drive improvement. At the heart of this is quality data capture. Perhaps we need a Waste Disclosure Project along the same lines?

We could sit around and wait for legislation to come to our rescue, or we could get more proactive on the topic. I think a strong place to start would be the establishment of a cross industry-benchmarking club for waste. This can’t be designed as a simple data repository, but a mechanism for organisations across the public and private sector to come together to learn from each other and develop new standards and understanding on waste data.

CIWM and Cloud Sustainability are hosting a webinar on this very topic in May ahead of launching our benchmarking survey in June 2015. We want to gather key statistics so we can understand what’s really going on across the industry. We will delve into the qualitative as well as the quantitative so will be asking questions on strategy, compliance, education and supply chain as well as organisation performance against the waste hierarchy.

Please do come and join us to listen to industry experts discuss the topic and contribute to the debate.

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