In an era where environmental consciousness and sustainability are at the forefront of global concerns, the waste management industry is undergoing a transformative journey. Many nations are striving to meet the expectations of their populace in protecting the environment and relying on increasingly innovative means to achieve this.
The UK’s waste management industry grew by 3.3% in 2021 and is expected to keep growing, reaching a potential £18.10 billion in value by 2026. These statistics underscore the pivotal role that waste management plays in addressing the challenges posed by our ever-expanding population and the role that technology, legislation, business and consumer practises are likely to play in the industry’s development.
In this article, we will delve into the trends and insights that are driving the UK waste management industry forward, giving you an understanding of the critical issues that are impacting the sector in 2023 and beyond.
For UK local authorities, food waste is becoming a pressing issue that promises to make this topic a key focus of the overall waste management industry.
As a component of the United Nations’ sustainable development objectives, the UK Government has pledged to reduce the per capita food waste in the UK by 50% by the year 2030. In addition to this, The Resources and Waste Strategy for England mandates that every local authority must initiate household food waste recycling collection by March 2025.
Currently, only half of the waste collection authorities provide household food waste collection services, leaving 160 English authorities tasked with the design, implementation, and launch of new food waste collection services in the coming two years. These demands are likely to make food waste a critical issue for those organisations who will be supporting local authorities expected to address the nation’s food waste concerns.
AI assisted recycling and waste management is shaping up to be an increasingly hot topic within the industry, intended to deliver operational efficiencies that can reduce the waste sent to landfill.
Innovation in this space continues to push forward, with some organisations using the increasingly sophisticated technology to scale automated waste sorting through robotics and AI-driven software in a way that has the potential to revolutionise the sector.
In 2023, UK-based AI company Recycleye recently secured £17 million in venture capital funding to further develop their AI-based waste-sorting robot, which they claim to be the most advanced waste-sorting AI system on the market.
With the global AI market expected to reach $100 billion in total value by 2030, you can expect the UK waste management industry to continue capitalising on the proliferation of these technologies into the future. Watch this space.
Big data refers to the collection data sets which are too large to analyse using traditional systems and demand complex computer models to draw useful conclusions. Big data analytics is typically used for predictive and user behaviour purposes, making it ideal for waste management.
Municipal waste collection offers opportunities to collect a huge amount of data, with the UK population producing millions of tons of waste every year from a variety of sources, making big data an important development within the sector.
Big data can be utilised in a variety of ways within waste management, with some of the most relevant being:
In its most basic form, the concept of a circular economy places a primary emphasis on reusing materials, aiming to reduce the excessive depletion of natural resources and the quantity of valuable materials that ultimately end up as waste in landfills. On a broader scale, it represents an economic framework that fosters the overall well-being of the system by progressively disconnecting economic growth from the consumption of finite resources.
The UK is committed to working towards increased circularity of its economy, as confirmed in 2020 by the announcement of their Circular Economy Package, which re-affirmed the government’s aim to recycle 65% of municipal waste by 2035.
This push is likely to have a significant impact on the policy and priorities of local authorities and recycling objectives in the coming years. Organisations will likely be expected to shift increasingly towards a circular business model, reducing the environmental impact of the products and services they provide and maximising the value of the resources they consume.
The Internet of Things generally refers to the network of interconnected devices and physical objectives that communicate data remotely via sensors and software. These devices range from household items to a variety of industrial tools. Within waste management, this has led to increasingly interconnected waste collection processes whereby vehicles, waste receptacles and waste itself can be seamlessly tracked and relay live data.
The IoT shift is closely related to the shift towards big data, where the industry is able to collect vast amounts of data on almost any facet of waste collection. These IoT devices are critical in allowing us to collect this data and make decisions that improve the performance of services. Here’s some of the IoT tech you should look out for in 2023 and beyond:
Despite growing need to address growing waste challenges, such as food waste, the public sector as a whole is expected to see budgetary shrinkage in the coming years that will impact waste collection across the UK. According to The District Councils Network, which represents 168 local authorities, local authorities across the UK are predicting a funding shortfall of £500 million across the next 2 financial years. More than 80% of these organisations said they plan to raise council tax by the maximum amount to help with address the shortfall, but the costs are expected to have a significant impact on waste collection services, with 43% saying they are likely to reduce waste collection efforts.
While the impact of reduced budget is yet to be seen, there’s hope that the continuous innovation of the waste management sector enables increasingly efficient waste collection. Technological advancements in waste collection are regularly delivering noticeable cost savings that help lessen the financial burden of service delivery.
The UK’s waste management industry is benefitting from a great deal of innovation and growth that promises to continue improving services and helping us achieve long-term sustainability goals. In particular, evolving technologies such as AI, big data and smart tech are becoming increasingly effective in automating waste management, delivering lower costs and improved operational efficiency. Despite this, looming financial shrinkage in 2024 and beyond does appear to be a significant threat to the public sector, which is likely to have a significant impact on domestic waste collection throughout the country. The coming years will likely play a significant role in deciding the government’s ability to hit its long-term sustainability targets and the priorities of the waste management industry as a whole.
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