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The UK Waste Industry Software Technology Review & Alignment Research

focus group

In Spring 2022 the Chartered Institute of Wastes Management (CIWM) and ISB Global launched a research project to better understand the perception and use of software in the UK waste industry.

The project started with an extensive questionnaire, with the results presented to a focus group to gather further insights. This initial analysis was then presented in a webinar to a separate sample audience to check on answers, help alleviate bias and ensure impartiality.

Phase 3 of this project is now underway and will see the information collated from the first two phases used to produce a report detailing the results of the research.

What have we learned?

There have been some very interesting findings to date, so we wanted to share some of the details ahead of publishing the full report.

This will help to give the extended waste and recycling community an initial understanding both of the results and the potential they deliver for the advance of digital transformation across the industry in the UK.

Applications, data and productivity

Anecdotally, the team at ISB Global was aware that waste and recycling management companies are using several different software applications to run their businesses.

Part of our research activity was to collect data in this area, and the results were interesting. We asked participants about the applications they used, the way they gathered and reported data and the manual interventions they were still making.

We found that of our sample – gathered from the questionnaire and then re-checked in a different sample during the webinar – 67% of the sample used between five and 12+ software applications. 

Figure 1 ISB Global
Fig.1 Questionnaire results from Phase 1 Sample: “What separate software applications are used by your organisation?”
Figure 2 ISB Global
Fig.2 Top seven software applications in no order, completed by the sample in the Phase 1 questionnaire.

We also asked about manual intervention and manual data entry and found that 69% of respondents said that more than 25% of their day-to-day transactions are still conducted manually.

We were interested to know whether our sample audience used waste-specific software solutions, or had chosen generic applications. Responses showed that over 25% do not use specialist waste management software and have chosen generic software applications. We also discovered that many still use spreadsheets to plug any data gaps.

In the Phase 2 webinar, we rephrased the question and asked: “How much development work is generally anticipated when purchasing, installing and using software?” 71% of respondents said that when implementing waste management software, over 40% of the work is additional development to make the software fit with their operation.

Insight and conclusion

Even from this small section of our research, it’s clear to see that waste and recycling companies are using many different generic software applications, whilst also relying on spreadsheets and manual transactions for some processes.

This leads us to believe that most specific waste management software is either not built to meet the needs of organisations, or that organisations don’t consider this type of software when they are investing or upgrading.

These statements support one of the hypotheses first drafted before the research commenced:

“There is some way to go for the UK sector to digitally transform and embrace integrated and emerging software technologies.”

Is this overarching hypothesis now backed up by this supporting research and insight into the perception and use in the industry? We think more in-depth, qualitative research is required.

Another result from the samples shows that suppliers and vendors need to work more closely with the industry to drive the productivity that digital transformation and subsequently circularity can deliver.

What opportunities can we identify?

In this article, we want to highlight one opportunity – tackling the productivity lost to time-consuming manual interventions throughout business processes.

69% of our respondents told us that more than 25% of their transactions were manual. The UK has approximately 150,000 employees in the waste sector. Approximately one-third of these staff will complete most of their working day in the back or front office, and roles associated with managing digital processes.

Assuming each of these staff works an 8-hour day, two hours would be spent on manual transactions. That equates to 70,000 hours per day spent on manual transactions UK-wide. Multiplied by 260 working days annually results in 18.2 million hours a year spent on manual transactions. Multiply that by the minimum wage for those over 23: £10.42 per hour. The result is £189.6m spent on manual transactions annually in the UK waste and recycling sector.

And this is just the “wage cost”. When people are spending 25% or more of their time on manual transactions, productivity reduces and organisations are less efficient. And with regulation increasing, customers demanding wider services and the drive towards a circular economy, waste and recycling businesses need to transform the way they manage all their business processes.

There are numerous other value engineering examples to quote in the order to cash or purchase-to-pay process.

Compelling reasons for change

If we think about how this works with just one company with 100 key business processes and 1,000 transactions per day, it’s easy to see how inefficiencies can accumulate. Add the lack of speed, accuracy, reporting and intelligence to time factor and the size of the problem becomes much greater.

The situation could be further exacerbated by not being able to add new technologies because the business feels the data in the manual transaction cannot be trusted to be automated. Ultimately this results in poor quality, sector-wide data at a time when good trustworthy data is desperately needed.

What could we achieve?

Imagine a UK waste and recycling sector where the majority of organisations have automated at least 95% of their transactions. This would have a huge, and positive, effect on the productivity of the sector. Sustainability analysis and reporting could be introduced quickly due to the integrated foundations and trustworthy data, both automating and pinpointing areas of rapid decarbonisation in the sector. And adopting dedicated technologies will also create greater efficiency, strategic advantages and better customer service.

This is the UK waste and recycling sector that we are working towards at ISB Global. Our work with the CIWM has given us data that reveals the challenges, perceptions and ambitions in the market, and this helps us to see how we can start to provoke change.

When published, the report will give us insights into how to implement that change, collaborating across the sector – something that respondents have indicated they are keen to do.

ISB Global is driving change in the waste and recycling management sector, designed to make it a world leader in technology adoption and use. We want organisations to be efficient and sustainable across all their working practices, building towards a circular economy, which is where we all need to be if we want to secure a future for our planet – and our place on it.

About ISB Global

Founded in 1999, ISB Global designs and delivers innovative software that allows environmental, waste management and recycling businesses to automatically track, measure, report and analyse their waste and recyclable materials.

ISB Global’s flagship product is Waste and Recycling One (WR1), which enables businesses to plan, track and control their waste management and recycling operations via a single integrated software solution.

WR1 provides instant visibility of where materials are, how much businesses have in their inventory and what those materials are worth. Delivered through real-time analytics, reporting and insights on all aspects of the collection and material recycling operations, WR1 offer an insight into the future of how the world deals with waste and recyclable materials.

ISB Global is based in the UK with offices in the USA, Pakistan and South Africa.

A pressing question to answer – what will Scotland do with its waste?


When Scotland’s Circular Economy Minister Lorna Slater confirmed the ban on new Energy from Waste (EfW) plants last year – it raised a new and pressing question for the country, what will they do with that waste? Here, Lee Knott, Chief Commercial Officer for Advetec outlines three steps that could help Scotland without delay.

Scotland’s 2025 ban on biodegradable matter to landfill is imminent and will require volumes of waste to find a new home unless it is AT4 compliant. Prior to the moratorium on new build EfW, this may well have sparked greater demand for incineration, however no new capacity limits that route.

Even with a likely increase in waste exports, Scotland does not have the waste capacity or infrastructure to achieve its 2025 target. The focus now has to be on finding solutions that will help Scotland to chart a positive path forward, and fast, starting with:

  1. Local solutions

Instead of thinking on a macro level about how to tackle waste infrastructure and create new capacity, there needs to be a greater focus on local solutions – especially for a country full of remote and rural communities where the logistics of waste collection and processing are challenging.

The provision of waste services in rural communities is typically more expensive than its urban counterparts due to low-density populations, long distances between service users and providers, and smaller communities that prohibit economies of scale.

Narrow country roads, remote hard-to-access islands and micro-climates all add to the list of difficulties affecting waste service provision, which tend to rely on HGV-led collections. Consider also that these vehicles contribute greatly to CO2 emissions, damage air quality and add to traffic congestion, and it’s clear that better waste solutions have many factors to address. They must tackle geographic challenges, reduce the burden on local road infrastructure and offer greater cost efficiency – all while reducing the impact on the environment.

Instead of taking waste “elsewhere” for processing – cooperation and partnership between local authorities, businesses, waste handlers and waste innovators could drive innovation and create local capacity on the ground. For example, a local business in need of an AD plant could partner with a local authority to create a solution for all. A community of businesses could invest in biotechnology to process their waste on-site and turn it into valuable Solid Recovered Fuel. When communities think more collegiately, we can achieve greater change.

  1. Extending the answer beyond “recycle more”

So often the conversation about reducing the waste that goes to landfill or for incineration lands on “recycle more”, as if it solves all ills. The Ricardo report commissioned by Scottish Environmental Services Association is case in point as it called for a shift towards more recycling and reduction of carbon. However this is not the only solution, and it certainly will not address the reality of Mixed Residual Waste – that is the waste that can’t be recycled because of the presence of organic matter.

Even the top-performing countries globally for recycling – Germany, Austria, South Korea and Wales – still generate over 40% as residual waste, which requires management and treatment. Even with a greater focus on recycling in Scotland – there will still be a residual waste fraction which requires treatment.

All of this highlights Scotland’s lack of a clear and considered residual waste strategy and perhaps more broadly, insufficient understanding of all of its waste streams.

But, while it would be easy to lambast the decision-makers for this lack of detail – a better use of collective endeavour would be to help Scotland to stave off an impending crisis.

All parties with a stake in Scotland’s waste infrastructure need to educate themselves, seek out innovation, think more broadly and be prepared to try new ways of doing things. It also requires the industry to push for the barriers to change to be removed. Inexperienced resources, a lack of urgency in the planning and permitting process and siloed, even limited thinking will only hinder the ability to find solutions.

  1. Innovating now

Whether that relates to Artificial Intelligence to improve the accuracy of waste sorting, using Advetec’s biotechnology to make residual waste AT4 compliant, or adopting new mindsets to deliver shared community solutions – innovation is vital to Scotland’s waste future.

New technologies and the capacity they create could help Scotland deliver change now, despite challenging economic circumstances and limited time to implement infrastructure. A country full of rural locations and remote communities needs local, flexible, scalable, and innovative waste treatment solutions to deliver change quickly.

Scotland urgently needs a residual waste strategy. There really is no time to delay.

The 2025 ban on biodegradable waste is just 20 months away. Time, and waste, wait for no one.

UKCM secures contract with Glasgow City Council

UKCM Secures Contract with Glasgow City Council

Container repair and refurbishment company UK Container Maintenance (UKCM) has secured a three-and-a-half-year contract with Glasgow City Council.

The Cheshire-based firm says it will deliver major cost-savings for the local authority, providing factory-based maintenance and repairs for its commercial waste and recycling containers.

UKCM continues that it will collect and refurbish Glasgow City Council’s existing assets, restoring and repairing the containers to increase the lifespan, while also helping to maintain compliance and maximise utilisation.

The major contract win was achieved under the Scotland Excel framework, following UKCM’s success in securing a position on the Scottish government’s official portal for public sector contract opportunities.

Further to a rigorous application and selection process, UKCM is only one of three suppliers within the category on the framework and now has the opportunity to trade with all 32 local authorities in Scotland.

We are incredibly excited to be working with Glasgow City Council to deliver a sustainable option.

Emma Elston MBE, CEO of UK Container Maintenance, commented: “We are incredibly excited to be working with Glasgow City Council to deliver a sustainable option, and highly cost-effective maintenance and repairs for their waste and recycling containers.

“At UKCM, we work with a large number of local authorities across the length and breadth of the UK, enabling them to benefit from the extensive opportunities afforded by recycling otherwise redundant containers back into service; we look forward to extending our technical knowledge and expertise further as we work to support Glasgow City Council.”

Established in 1998, UKCM, describes itself as the UK’s largest family-owned container repair and refurbishment company. The company says it is dedicated to the refurbishment of all types of waste and recycling containers. UKCM works across the country offering waste companies and local authorities mobile repairs, as well as factory-based services at its head office located in Winsford, Cheshire.

UKCM says the process brings old, and often unwanted, waste containers back to life instead of them going to scrap. The business model – refurbishment over replacement – is simple and for a third of the price of replacing a container, UKCM says it can restore the unit to full working order.

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