The Drive For Data

Jacqui-O'DonovanData and benchmarking is important. There is no getting around this fact. Managing director of O’Donovan Waste Disposal, Jacqueline O’Donovan, discusses why data is so important, the value of good information and the industry issues strong statistics can address.


data-conceptIndustries globally invest heavily to source strong statistics that help to inform business decisions, track progress and measure success. The waste industry has taken slightly longer than most to catch up on the importance of data but this is no longer the case as businesses throughout the waste supply chain begin to harvest it for all aspects of operations.

The value of good data should not be underestimated, particularly in an industry such as ours. This value can perhaps be personified by the impact policy change can have on our industry and how we, collectively, have significant targets to achieve before 2020. The continued support of policy makers and whether or not we meet our combined goals going forward will largely be determined on data gathered. With this in mind, it becomes immediately obvious how much is riding on the reliability of data.

Currently however we have a series of issues around the quality of data being produced. One of the main reasons for the lack of quality data is the fact that most research projects focus either on a specific regional area or a specific waste stream. While this is of course useful on a small scale, if you then try to use this data on a national level it leads to generalisations or assumptions which don’t present an accurate picture.

A prime example of when data was skewed on a national level was when in 2013 two separate sets of data published presented very different pictures of the waste industry and its readiness for the future. One reported that, by 2020, there would not be enough waste processing capacity in the UK while, simultaneously, another review indicated that, in the next seven years, the UK would have been over-equipped with waste infrastructure. If we refer back to my earlier point regarding the industry needing policy change to secure its future, this compounds the danger around such discrepancy between information produced and placed in the public domain.

Additionally, the ongoing growth of the waste industry relies heavily on investment in technology, research and development and infrastructure. The need for tangible, accurate data is vital for these investments to be made.

A Competitive Waste Sector

At a different level, the waste industry has become increasingly competitive. With this is mind it is perhaps understandable that the importance of good strong data is being more widely understood. After all, a company which can back up the success or improvement of their operations with solid data is more likely to win a potential new client than one that simply just claims to be the best.

O’Donovan Waste Disposal operates in the construction and demolition industry which itself is striving to become more environmentally-friendly and improve its own sustainable statistics. With this in mind, waste management companies that wish to work with construction companies are being asked to prove more when it comes to safety statistics and recycling rates, for example, so that procurement departments can be satisfied that they are working with those that are operating at the highest level. To answer on this demand, gathering solid data is crucial.

To that end we’ve invested £80,000 in a bespoke Operational Management System, provided information to Transport for London’s Fleet Operators Recognition Scheme through our benchmarking process and brought in further resource in the shape of a designated environmental manager, so that we can report on our performance across all of our operations. This has proved hugely beneficial, enabling us to report our performance statistics on operational aspects such as safety and sustainability to potential and current clients alike.

While the industry is indeed making great strides to collect and report reliable data, there is still a great deal of work to be done to make data a tangible resource the industry can rely upon to support its future growth and success. If we are to continue to be supported by policy makers, to secure investment into waste infrastructure and on a different level, continue to win business as companies operating within the waste sector, then reliable information about the sector is key.

To ensure that the data produced is valid we must work collectively through trade bodies, such as CIWM, to make sure that any statistics collected are done so collectively and consistently to ensure they best represent the industry. With the alternative being a poorly represented sector on a national scale, the implications of which could have significant effects on the industry’s future, acting now is imperative.


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