Digital Waste Tracking: Preparing for New Legislation

Digital Waste Tracking - Wasteify

In 2018, The UK Government, led by Theresa May released it’s 25 year Environmental Plan. The plan addresses several Environmentally important topics, but in a nutshell:

“Its goals are simple: cleaner air and water; plants and animals which are thriving; and a cleaner, greener country for us all” (Theresa May, Foreword from the Prime Minister, A Green Future: Our 25 Year Plan to Improve the Environment, 2018)

It’s within this plan, we see for the first time, the introduction to “Digital Waste Tracking.” On page 84, paragraph 6, it states:

“We must also develop business models that challenge inefficient production practice and on this we will work with industry to explore options for making waste tracking data universally digitised.”

In 2021 a request was sent out to businesses and individuals working in the waste sector, looking for volunteers to join a focus group to help steer the plan to digitise the nations waste records. Fast forward another 2 years and we are now told that mandatory digital waste tracking, will be implemented by DEFRA across the whole of the United Kingdom by April 2025.

How will mandatory digital waste tracking work?

We’re not 100% sure how this will work, but presentations and documentation we have seen suggest that when a Waste Carrier collects waste from the Producer, the Carrier will be required to register the collection on a digital system. The collection will then be assigned a unique Tracking ID. Then, when the waste is received at a consolidation site, the tracking ID will be recorded by the receiving party, thus giving a full audit trail to prove specific materials were collected at a certain location and delivered to a legitimate, permitted waste consolidation site.

What are your options for digital waste tracking?

At the end of May this year, those who are signed up to the DEFRA newsletter received an email. Within the email DEFRA state that, regardless of the General Election and the Party that comes into power, the deadline for April 2025 still stands.

Screenshot from email newsletter, DEFRA 30/05/2024

As a result, businesses have less than 300 days to decide how they are going to comply with the impending legislation. Below is a high level guide showing you the options you and your business have, to meet the regulations for mandatory digital waste tracking.

Option 1: Subscribing to an Off-the-Shelf Digital Waste Tracking Product

The private sector has been offering digital solutions for well over 2 decades to help companies digitise their waste management processes. There are multiple suppliers who will promise the world when selling you an off the shelf solution, each one with it’s own features and benefits. There are solutions that can track your drivers behaviour and driving speed whilst carrying X tonnage of Y material then finding and navigating your drivers on the most fuel efficient route, to a free to use service that you can use to turn your paper tickets into a digital record, like Google Sheets or Microsoft Excel. Gone are the days of needing a clunky, overly protected and expensive PDA to record your collections/ deliveries. Most modern solutions offer a smartphone app that allow data to be captured at the point of collection/ delivery.

The pros to an off the shelf solution:

  • Systems are already developed, in use by businesses and have undergone huge amounts of development, testing, redevelopment and multiple deployments.
  • For a marginal fee per user per month, businesses can subscribe to software that is hosted, supported and maintained, saving businesses going down the ever so often, painful route of bespoke development.
  • Implementation teams and customer success / account managers will help your business deploy a solution, giving you time back to focus on your day to day activities. Most solutions also offer levels of support within the contract, should you need it.
  • When key legislation changes or is introduced, the solution provider should cater for the changes, again removing the risk for you as a business.

The cons to an off the shelf solution:

  • There is NO one size fit’s all solution. Your business is unique, although your day to day activities may not be. You may not like the way the ‘best’ solution on the market looks, feels or the business selling it. You may not want all the bells and whistles they provide. You may want more than they provide. You may want to work with a company that has experience in your specific field rather than someone whose made their product fit your market.
  • Navigating the sales landscape can leave you more confused than you were to begin with. Salespeople can over sell the product you’re buying. There are countless stories of companies implementing a solution or product only to find, it doesn’t actually do what they were promised it would do. You also only have so many hours in a day and spending them finding the right solution can be a long, drawn out process.
  • Pricing. Software companies will often price gouge. The more features you want, the more you have to pay. Those prices generally are always going in one direction for the foreseeable and that direction isn’t down.

Option 2: Building an In-House Digital Waste Tracking System.

I personally started my career in product management for software development, specifically within the UK Construction sector. I’ve been a part of many bespoke development projects and they are, on the most part, great things to be involved with. Bespoke development allows you to improve your business processes in the exact way that you wish to operate. You can choose the operating system, where your data is hosted, what devices you wish it to be compatible with, link it to your in-house infrastructure and more. This is the best option for the company that really can’t find an off the shelf solution that they can deploy into their business. However, there are many considerations to make.

The pros to a Bespoke Digital Waste Tracking Solution:

  • Customisation, you as a business have complete control over how the system works. If you want to add a specific field, unique to your operations, you can. Want your data hosted on your own servers, you can.
  • Investing in your business by owning a digital asset and employing people with a new skillset, or upskilling your existing workforce to learn new skills.
  • You can start small, then scale the solution to meet your business requirements.

The cons to a Bespoke Digital Waste Tracking Solution:

  • For the most part, bespoke development is significantly more expensive than an off the shelf product. Hiring a developer (one of the highest paid jobs in the UK currently), a project manager to oversee the project and taking time out of the relevant stakeholders workdays to be involved in the project all add up. Developing a complete bespoke solution from scratch will often creep into the 6 figure territory.
  • Technical debt. Most businesses do not have the technical ability to develop a bespoke system in house. There needs to be multiple skillsets involved in a project before it gets off the ground. Solution architecture, physical design and user experience/ interface, server requirements, industry knowledge both from an IT and an industry background.
  • Scope creep. What often happens on bespoke projects, companies see the benefits of digitising, then begin to want more and more features that sometimes, really aren’t necessarily the best way forward. Scope creep will delay a project, cost more money and often cause friction and frustration within the project teams.

Option 3: Using the Government Portal for Digital Waste Tracking

Based on communication from DEFRA, we do know that there will be a Government portal that can be used for businesses. A recent presentation suggests a business will have up to 3 days prior to a waste collection to register it on their platform to receive a digital Tracking ID. We also know that they will be offering an API to developers to access the portal. Other than that, from what we’ve seen, there’s still a lot of unanswered questions.

The pros to using the Government portal for Digital Waste Tracking:

  • As the regulations is being set by DEFRA, it’s safe to assume that the portal they are creating will contain all the relevant features and requirements for you to use, to be compliant. In theory, this should reduce your time spent looking for a solution, allowing you to instantly use the DEFRA portal.
  • Pricing. We are yet to see a Government based portal that charges it’s user base. Again, it’s not 100% confirmed but we can imagine it’s free to use for individual businesses, so it’s not costing you any physical money.

The cons to using the Government portal for Digital Waste Tracking:

As the portal is not live and we have not seen it, it would be unfair to draw any conclusions about it’s possible downsides. However, more generally, previous portals and sites that have been rolled out by Government and their departments have been lacklustre in features and often frustrating to use. Running a business managing hundreds if not thousands of waste collections on a routine basis is time consuming enough, we hope that the feasibility of data entry has been considered by the team working on the project.

Option 4: Refuse to Comply and Sticking with Pen and Paper

We’ve spoken to many in the industry who believe it’s all a waste of time and ‘it’s never going to happen or work.’ We have to take the deadline seriously and work toward that date as a matter of fact. If the deadline really is April 2025, businesses can still technically use paper and pen to record their transactions, but it will purely be for internal processing. DEFRA will still require you to digitally track your waste movements, so why not do it once digitally, saving you time, money whilst protecting your business.

An argument we often hear is ‘there’s always going to be fly-tipping, so why should we adopt it if they won’t.’ I understand the comments, but it doesn’t really make sense. Law breakers will always exist, a bold statement, but in the whole of history there doesn’t seem to have been a time where everybody followed all of the rules unanimously. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do what’s expected of you, just because there’s a few rotten apples that spoil it for everyone else. We also shouldn’t let the decisions of these people, slow down progress for the rest of us. The more companies that adopt digital waste tracking, the more the Waste Producers will be aware of the regulations. Regulation changes for the most part drive behavioural changes. When the majority of Waste Carrier companies are tracking their waste on a digital system, authorities will have more free time to focus on those who choose not to play by the rules, leading to increased likelihood of the rule breakers being penalised. In theory, adopting digital waste tracking should overtime, reduce the amount of fly-tipping and increase the amount of sustainable practices, reducing the amount of waste we produce in the UK.

Conclusion: Navigating the Digital Waste Tracking Mandate.

Choosing which option you adopt is a decision that is right, uniquely for you and your business. There are pros and cons in each and every option. There will always be people who push back against regulations and in a handful of cases they could be seen as justified to do so. However, in this instance, as long the solutions have been designed correctly and they do not increase the amount of time businesses spend completing records, digital waste tracking is a net benefit for UK businesses, the economy and for the environment.

If you’d like to see how Crate can help your business deliver the mandate for digital waste tracking, you can get in touch via phone, email or social media.


  1. What is digital waste tracking?
    • Digital waste tracking involves using digital tools and platforms to monitor, record, and manage waste production, handling, and disposal.
  2. Why is digital waste tracking becoming mandatory?
    • Governments are mandating digital waste tracking to improve accuracy, enhance environmental protection, and streamline regulatory compliance.
  3. What are the benefits of subscribing to an off-the-shelf digital waste tracking product?
    • Benefits include ease of implementation, regular updates, customer support, and proven reliability.
  4. What are the potential drawbacks of using an off-the-shelf product for digital waste tracking?
    • Drawbacks may include less customisation, ongoing subscription costs, and potentially being oversold.
  5. How does the government portal for digital waste tracking work?
    • The government portal will provide a standardised platform for businesses to track waste and comply with regulatory requirements.
  6. What are the benefits of building an in-house digital waste tracking system?
    • Benefits include complete customization, control over data security, and potential long-term cost savings.
  7. What are the challenges of developing an in-house digital waste tracking system?
    • Challenges include high initial development costs, ongoing maintenance, and the need for specialised technical expertise.
  8. What are the risks of continuing to use pen and paper for waste tracking?
    • Risks include non-compliance with new regulations, higher error rates, inefficiency, and potential legal penalties.
  9. How can businesses decide which digital waste tracking option is best for them?
    • Businesses should consider factors such as cost, customisation needs, ease of use, compliance requirements, and long-term sustainability.

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