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Dsposal Is Changing How We See Waste

What happens when you throw something in the recycling bin? The fact that we don’t know, and that there’s no way to find out, renders it an act of blind faith. But what if you knew, for example, how much aluminium was collected from your street in a given week, and that six weeks later that aluminium had been used to make drinks cans in Germany? You’d also know that you’d collectively saved a certain amount of CO2 emissions. With that knowledge, you might feel empowered, more connected to your community, and motivated to engage in sustainable behaviour.

This is the kind of scenario that Tom Passmore and Sophie Walker dream of. For the latest episode of our podcast on the circular economy, we chatted to Tom and Sophie about their company Dsposal, which uses data to reveal what happens to waste once we throw it away.

As things stand, waste chains are hugely complex and opaque—for manufacturers, local authorities and waste collection agencies, as well as individual consumers. “To enable transparency and accountability, it’s about having the data and being able to report on it,” says Tom.

At Dsposal, the duo are working to gather decentralised, sometimes even undigitised data from various agents across the waste chain, and then clean it, normalise it, validate it and release it so that it’s accessible to all—thereby making the entire system more efficient.

One of the company’s founding values is that “resources are limited and we should act like it,” says Tom. “There are mining companies that love spending huge amounts of money to find out where there's gold, copper, oil, gas, coal... Whereas we don't do anything with the materials that we actually already have, and I think that's a massive disconnect.”

What they didn’t bank on at the outset was the lack of a digital framework. “We didn't realize that a lot of infrastructure needs to be built to enable the type of data gathering and analysis that we think is important if we're going to move to a circular economy,” says Sophie.

A circular mindset recognises that our challenges are systemic. You can’t isolate a problem in a complex system, because the elements are interconnected. Manufacturing and waste both need to be included in an ecosystem of solutions, because they are both concerned with the same thing, even if it’s valued differently. “If you're saying it's a TV, and you need to get rid of it, that's definitely waste. But if you're saying I've got 1.4 tons of gold because I've picked up this many TVs, then someone's really interested in that gold,” says Sophie.

Dsposal’s waste thesaurus is an example of how they are using technology to connect and integrate stakeholders across industries. The world’s largest English-language waste thesaurus, the tool translates industry jargon into categories that people can understand, helping them dispose of their waste correctly and increasing the chances it will be properly recycled.

The waste thesaurus API allows the data to be applied to a diverse range of uses and contexts. Waste companies can better understand how to properly comply with regulations and ensure they fulfil their duty of care. People and businesses can source or dispose of materials, providing valuable data about product lifecycles. “We layer up the data and get to the point where we know exactly where an item is going to go next. And because of that, we can start mapping the whole industry,” says Tom.

Smartly leveraged by the likes of Dsposal, relevant data and robust digital infrastructure can show us how resources and materials flow through the economy. If waste materials are identified, quantified and handled as resources, they become more valuable. This in turn influences the manufacturing process and helps to kick-start a more sustainable loop, rather than a linear model that leaks value and ends up creating more landfill.

With their holistic perspective, technological expertise and purpose-driven approach, Dsposal are changing how we see waste. Technology has a key role to play in demystifying complex processes and empowering individuals and businesses alike to make decisions that benefit the environment—and ultimately the health of people and the economy, too.

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About the author

Barry O'Kane

Barry is the founder of HappyPorch. With 20 years in the web development industry as a programmer and agency owner, he has a preternatural ability to decipher the systems and processes code that holds many teams back from achieving their goals. Partners say Barry gets to the root of issues quickly and makes it downright easy to deliver good work.    

While he's unbelievably grounded, it's not uncommon to find him sailing through the trees as he paraglides his way round the world.