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Information on waste services is often hard to find, leaving UK residents confused about what they can and can’t recycle. Enabling councils and the public to find useful, accurate information about their local recycling facilities can play an important role in helping to reduce the confusion around waste and recycling. In 2020, waste start-up Your Dsposal undertook a discovery project to develop open standards to help promote transparency and accountability to tackle illegal and unscrupulous activities in the waste sector.

In 2020–21, we set up a stimulus fund as part of the fourth year of the ODI’s R&D programme – funded by Innovate UK – and our broader programme of work on data institutions. The fund aimed to help explore approaches that enable trustworthy and ethical data sharing to help citizens and businesses lower their impact on the environment, improve public services and save lives.

We’re facing a climate emergency and must find ways to minimise our impact on the environment. Resource efficiencies offer ways to significantly reduce our carbon budgets but we currently lack good data on waste. Open data standards help to lay the foundations to enable us to understand our waste, and therefore our resources. This open data standard for Household Waste Recycling Centres is just the start, but it’s an important and significant step in the right direction

– Sophie Walker, COO and Co-founder, Your Dsposal

Key facts and figures

  • Your Dsposal was awarded funding from the Open Data Institute (ODI) for its project to design and develop an open data standard for Household Waste Recycling Centre (HWRC) information and a prototype open dataset of this information.
  • Your Dsposal took a collaborative approach to find a solution, and conducted nine workshops between August 2020 and January 2021, with stakeholders from local authorities, waste operators, environmental consultants, academia, compliance schemes, and the third sector, with representation from each of the four UK nations and further afield.
  • If adopted across local authorities, an open data standard will make using, linking, sharing and comparing this data easier, enabling third parties and ‘infomediaries’ (websites that collect and publish information on products and organisations) to access reliable, accurate data via the open dataset.

What was the challenge?

Despite the looming climate crisis, recycling rates are falling in the UK. Moreover, immature digital systems in the waste industry are increasing the likelihood of people fly-tipping or illegally burning waste, which are serious crimes. Your Dsposal is working to positively impact the waste sector by tackling the challenge of a lack of publicly-available waste and recycling information in the UK.

Waste crimes such as fly-tipping, illegal burning of waste and running illegal waste sites is estimated to cost the UK economy, and us as taxpayers, more than £1 billion a year and these crimes have a massive impact on our environment

– Sophie Walker, COO and Co-founder, Your Dsposal

As everyone creates waste, it should be easy to find the information needed to be able to handle this waste in the most responsible and environmentally-friendly way. However, the public is often left confused about the services their council offers, and struggle to access the relevant advice.

This lack of information on what and how to recycle, combined with a lack of educational material on recycling, makes it difficult for people to do the right thing while lacking confidence on how to manage household waste. This lack of information is largely due to immature digital systems with very little open data infrastructure within the waste sector. While councils and local authorities do update their websites with information on waste and recycling, the lack of consistency in where and how this information is presented has left the public searching for information.

To tackle this issue the waste industry must embark upon massive digital transformation, and to ensure there is the level of transparency needed, we need this transformation to be built upon open standards and open data

– Sophie Walker, COO and Co-founder, Your Dsposal

Your Dsposal aimed to solve this challenge by identifying how open data and open standards for waste data can empower both councils and people to make better decisions with their resources and waste.

How is Your Dsposal solving the problem?

From the initial stages of the project, Your Dsposal understood the need for a collaborative approach to inform solutions. Throughout the project, the team conducted workshops with representatives from local authorities, waste operators, environmental consultants, academia, compliance schemes, and the third sector to gain a collective understanding of the complex waste supply chain around HWRCs and within the wider waste ecosystem.

Successful engagement with key stakeholders – utilising resources like the ODI’s Data Ecosystem Mapping tool – allowed Your Dsposal to understand and evaluate what data is commonly useful across all HWRCs in the UK. This includes information such as geolocation, opening hours, the waste types HWRCs will accept, vehicle restrictions, charges levied and special measures in place due to Covid-19, as well as information that enables the data to be combined with other open datasets like Companies House.

The workshops were incredibly helpful to us. They’ve refined, pushed and developed our thinking about the standard. They’ve helped us understand other ways that this open standard and open dataset could bring value to various elements of the ecosystem that operates around HWRCs

– Sophie Walker, COO and Co-founder, Your Dsposal

After mapping the data sources and finding commonality, Your Dsposal used guidance from the ODI’s Open Standards for Data Guidebook, best practice, unique IDs, and researched taxonomy to build upon existing standards and develop an open data standard for HWRCs, in collaboration with Open Data Manchester and other stakeholders. With broad adoption and agreement by local authorities and key stakeholders, this standard would allow for the continued updating of HWRC data and make it easier for councils to coordinate waste information, increasing transparency and accountability to make a positive impact on our environment.

Building on this, Your Dsposal released a prototype dataset of the data coordinated through the open data standard for HWRCs. The dataset creates access to relevant HWRC information, and empowers the public to make better decisions with their resources and waste.

What was the impact of taking this approach?

Successful adoption of the open data standard project will allow Your Dsposal to meaningfully contribute to the digital transformation of the waste data ecosystem. The open standard developed will enable interoperability of data sharing, and assist in facilitating a smooth transition towards a digital way of working for local authorities and the wider waste community.

Your Dsposal’s work could have a big impact on the data ecosystem. In the short term, if adopted, the open standard and prototype dataset should make it easier for local authorities to publish information, and for the public to access the information needed to increase recycling rates. In the long term, the team believes that open data and open data standards could enable massive transformation by increasing transparency and accountability, encouraging innovation and improving competition.

The beauty of it being open is that you don’t really know all the ways it may be used. It goes way beyond just benefitting us. It can be used by anyone who wants to use this data for an idea they have. We also believe it will make it easier for local authorities and tie in with their data or smart city strategies. We think this will drive innovation, increase access to this information and help us to meet our environmental targets

– Sophie Walker, COO and Co-founder, Your Dsposal

Holistically, initiatives like Your Dsposal’s open data project help drive the vital transition towards a circular economy – where waste is limited and resources are reused – by making it easy for people to do the right thing with their resources and waste. This presents solutions to both local communities and wider society. If we can really understand the materials that we have flowing through our economies as waste, we can start to treat them like the valuable resources they are, and plan for the future.

Ultimately, the stimulus fund provided Your Dsposal with a foundation to expand on their organisational mandate, and positively impact the waste sector. Supporting data access initiatives like Your Dsposal has the potential to spark much needed innovation in the industry, make it harder for criminals to take advantage of misinformation, and provide a vital level of transparency and accountability which is currently missing from the sector.

Lessons learned

  • Stakeholders in the waste data ecosystem have contrasting views on the value and importance of data. As such, Your Dsposal learned how crucial it is to speak to as broad a range of people as possible when researching and forming new standards.
  • There is a real challenge in walking the line between a standard that is useful for everyone, but also not making it overly complex. Your Dsposal has started by opting for a simple and not too sprawling standard in the initial stages, but has ensured that it can add in more complexity, extend or add more at a later date, based on what will deliver more value to more people.
  • In a tech and data immature industry, being open doesn’t feel enough – there needs to be effort made to make it accessible to non-data, non-tech people too. More work also needs to go into education and awareness around what open data and open standards really mean, and why they are important.

What's next

Moving forward, Your Dsposal is hoping to work with the On-Pack Recycling Label (OPRL) scheme to look at how this information can be used to inform packaging manufacturers and retailers about the potential recyclability of packaging material choices, based on how easy it is for citizens to access recycling services. Furthermore, Your Dsposal is working with OpenStreetMap and WikiData to get a version of the data into those platforms, and to look at tooling to extract it.

Finally, Your Dsposal is actively promoting the standard to local authorities to encourage adoption, and is putting in place resources to support the implementation of the standard and publishing of the data. It will use its own directory as a use case for the dataset, and will encourage other third-party developers to make use of it.

If you are interested in the research of Your Dsposal please read the report: ‘Creating open data infrastructure to turn rubbish into resources’ and listen to the ODI Fridays lunchtime lecture: ‘Can open data turn rubbish into resources?’

Find out more

If you are interested in the research or work ODI is doing into data institutions and data access initiatives please get in touch with a member of the team.

Other recipients of the data access stimulus fund award were Open Climate Fix, DNV, Collections Trust, Open Data Manchester, ODI Leeds and Etic Lab. Find out more about the stimulus fund and what we learned here.