In conversation with Michael Groves from Topolytics
It’s hard to believe it has been over 12 months since Pragmatic joined forces with waste tech company Topolytics on a DEFRA project to deliver the UK’s first comprehensive digital waste tracking solution. We caught up with Michael Groves, CEO of Topolytics, for a virtual chat about life during COVID-19 and the smart waste business.
Michael Groves has 25 years’ experience in environmental management and sustainability. After studying for his degree in geographical science and gaining a PhD in satellite remote sensing, he worked in some remote forests in South East Asia and helped to pioneer sustainable forestry certification. After selling his sustainability reporting and communications consultancy, Michael founded the waste data aggregation and analytics firm Topolytics.
What have been your key highlights in 2020?
I have really missed human contact, both personal and professional and find myself suffering from a new condition called Zoom Gloom or Teams Terror! At the same time, Topolytics is progressing well with its mission to make the world’s waste visible, verifiable, and valuable. Our live data platform, WasteMap® maps the generation, movement and fate of waste, offering important insights to waste producers, processors and regulators. We have undertaken some exciting smart waste projects with technology partners and global clients this year.
Following on from phase 1 of the DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) project with Pragmatic, we have been developing a prototype system for DEFRA and the national regulators that will digitally track the many millions of waste movements across the UK. This has been specified in the UK Environment Bill and the intention is that it will be mandatory for all organisations generating, handling and processing waste to transfer data on the movement of this material into the system. Topolytics’ belief is that the system needs to be easy for the waste industry to engage with, but it also needs to be ‘future proofed’. This means that, amongst other things, it should work with the growing amount of data generated by sensors and smart labels, for example using RFID tags incorporating Pragmatic’s unique flexible electronics technology. Within the context of the DEFRA project, we demonstrated item-level digital tracking of used tyres, part of a trial deployment that Pragmatic had initiated with the Tyre Recovery Association (TRA). Due to COVID-19 restrictions, we were unable to do an extensive roll-out, but we worked with a smaller sample of tyres, packaging and labels within a controlled and safe environment. Here we captured a live demo, showing these objects being tagged and scanned, and digital records appearing in the Topolytics waste tracking platform in real time.
We have also recently announced our project with SAP and some of its customers, including BrewDog, Coca-Cola European Partners and DS Smith. Here we used WasteMap® to ingest, normalise and analyse data on commercial, industrial and post-consumer material within and out of Scotland. This offered insights into what happens to this material with associated efficiencies and reporting advantages. This project was a demonstrator of a global capability to process and analyse waste data at scale, across multiple companies and multiple countries.
What are your predictions for waste tech in 2021?
Looking ahead to 2021, I do not see the issue of waste going away as a consumer, corporate or government concern. Indeed, the pandemic has certainly focused attention on an increase in the use of single use plastic, for example. It has also affected the operational functions of the global recycling industry. At the same time, companies are taking a serious look at their supply chains and resource efficiency and circular economy are becoming a real business issue, rather than an eco-concept.
We also continue to see the growing impact of climate change, which will have a focus later in 2021, when world leaders assemble for the UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow. Waste and circular economy are key components of this agenda. We therefore look forward to flying the flag for the effective use of data analytics, plus the kind of technology developed by Pragmatic, for bringing more waste and by-products back into the production economy. This, in turn, will make a significant contribution to reducing the climate impact of goods, packaging and materials.