The ultimate ‘out of sight, out of mind problem,’ when we throw something away, it seems to disappear into a magical space that sits apart from us and our responsibility.
Tom Passmore and Sophie Walker, founders of Dsposal, are using data to bridge this knowledge gap by showing people what happens to waste once we throw it away.
On this episode, we speak to Tom and Sophie about their journey in building Dsposal and their mission in innovating waste management for the greater good.
After talking about how waste is part of a value-chain of resources within the circular economy, we explore ‘duty of care.’ A key concept, this duty affirms our responsibility to properly manage our waste.
Tom and Sophie then discuss their work translating complex jargon and codes into understandable and actionable language, especially with the use of their “Waste Thesaurus”.
On the topic of the circular economy, they explain their focus on compliance and regulation as using unregulated waste increases the likelihood that material ends up in a landfill — and therefore, out of the loop.
As Dsposal walks a tight-rope between providing a public service and seeking profitability, Tom and Sophie highlight their market challenges and company values.
They share how the drive to create Dsposal came from the need to resolve waste management inefficiencies, and we look at the impact that their business has had on perceptions of waste.
Near the end of the episode, we talk about the state’s role in creating infrastructure and how it’s up to the public to innovate systems.
A fascinating and energetic conversation about a pressing issue, tune in to hear about how Tom and Sophie are changing how we see waste.
Tom is the CEO and Co-Founder of Dsposal a clean-tech company who along with its sister social enterprise Your Dsposal, is on a mission is to empower people to make better decisions with their resources and waste by increasing transparency and accountability to make a positive impact on our environment.
Tom has a love of tech, a passion for the waste and resources industry and is a self-confessed waste-data geek.
His career in waste spans a decade and has included working as a recycling advisor with district councils and with private waste management companies primarily dealing with hazardous waste.
He also worked in the NHS as a principal data analyst but thinks waste data is a lot more interesting than health data. Tom volunteers with the Tech for Good Live podcast and produced a special series on the Circular Economy.
Tom came up with the idea for Dsposal whilst on a 9-month 8,700-mile cycle tour around North America. He prefers the intellectual challenges and security found in an office job to the freedom of a traveller’s life, but he still thinks that commuting by bike is the best.
“The circular economy is all about these interconnected, flowing loops. You have to understand where things are coming from, who's moving it around, who's creating it, where's it going, what's in there, and then get the best understanding of what happens next.” — Tom Passmore, @eldo36
Sophie is the COO and Co-Founder of Dsposal a clean-tech company who along with its sister social enterprise Your Dsposal, is on a mission is to empower people to make better decisions with their resources and waste by increasing transparency and accountability to make a positive impact on our environment.
She’s passionate about sustainability and draws on her varied background and experiences.
Born in Tamil Nadu, India, she spent her early years on rural development projects before moving to North Devon, UK.
Prior to founding the company in 2016, Sophie gained a degree in Conflict Resolution, cycled 8,700 miles around North America and enjoyed a winding career encompassing logistics and supply chain, the food industry and sustainability.
She brings a fresh pair of eyes and breadth of experience to her new-found passion for the waste and resources industry.
In her spare time, she volunteers on the Tech for Good Live podcast and is a trustee for the charity Village Service Trust, which supports the health and community development in rural Tamil Nadu.
She was voted joint 5th in the 2019 Resource Hot 100, is shortlisted for the Northern Power Women Outstanding Entrepreneur award 2020, is the secretary of the Waste Compliance Taskforce and is an alumna of the CSC Leaders Programme. She speaks internationally on waste, digitalisation, open data and open standards.
“Most of us, we put the stuff in the bin, we wheel it out to the curbside once a week, and then we just don't give it a second thought, do we?” — Sophie Walker, @Sophie_COO
Tune in to find out:
- Introducing Tom Passmore, Sophie Walker and their company, Dsposal.
- How Dsposal fits into the circular economy through waste management.
- Dsposal’s mission; using data to help people understand what happens to waste.
- Hear about the Waste Thesaurus and what Dsposal is doing to bridge the waste knowledge gap.
- How we all have a ‘duty of care’ to ensure proper waste management.
- Culture shifts and how people increasingly care about the environmental effects of waste.
- Enabling waste management transparency and then accountability through data.
- Understanding that confusion about waste is widespread among all industries.
- Why Dsposal’s first step was to focus on compliance.
- The market challenge of both collecting data and then making it freely available.
- Frustrations around how little data is available, especially in an online world.
- Building Dsposal’s values and how they’ve informed their decision-making process.
- Waste management inefficiencies that inspired Tom to build Dsposal.
- Helping companies maintain compliance with their duty of care.
- Dsposal’s impact and how it’s forming an ecology of waste solutions around itself.
- Government’s role in building infrastructure versus society’s role in developing innovation.
- Hear Tom’s ambition to gamify local waste management.
- Passive compliance and making the right thing to do the easiest thing to do.
- And much more!
Links mentioned in this episode:
Read our follow up article:
Dsposal Is Changing How We See Waste
When working for a waste company, It'd take me three hours to find the right code for tramp oil. I kept thinking, like, why is this the way? Because surely, there should be a directory somewhere?” — Tom Passmore, @eldo36
“With waste and the circular economy, if you don’t use licensed and legitimate operators, then the fate of that material is almost certainly going to be in a landfill, possibly burned.” — Sophie Walker, @Sophie_COO
Barry O'Kane 0:05
Welcome back to HappyPorch Radio. I'm incredibly excited to be speaking today to Tom and Sophie, who are the co founders of Dsposal. A clean tech company, who along with its sister social enterprise YourDsposal is on a mission to empower people to make better decisions with their resources and waste by increasing transparency and accountability to make a positive impact on our environment. Emily, I was completely blown away about how much energy and enthusiasm Tom and Sophie brought to that conversation.
Emily Swaddle 0:36
I agree. It was great to talk to them. And they said so many things, but I was just like, yes, this is answering all my questions. It was great.
Barry O'Kane 0:44
And just for context, so this fits in and I think actually, Tom and Sophie described this quite well, beginning of the interview, how this, I guess, the waste part of fits into the circular economy, and both not just recycling, but it's obviously just part of the circular economy. And that's one of the things I'm really enjoying actually, about this whole season is talking to different people who are fitting into different pieces of the whole sort of system and how their vision and how the technology and tools and approach that they're using is genuinely having, I think, an impact.
Emily Swaddle 1:15
Yeah, they were aware that they were part of the whole. And that was also inspiring to hear that they were excited to see how they can be supported by the other parts of that whole as well.
Barry O'Kane 1:24
Yeah. And I mentioned a couple of times the energy and enthusiasm, which is kind of, I think it's really cool to take something that can traditionally seem a bit you know, less exciting, it's the waste, it's the stuff that you know that... but actually the opportunities there for solving some of the problems, societal environmental problems, and the waste and just badly thrown away and badly disposed off waste causes, but more than that, like they're talking about the sort of opportunities to flip that from a really scary daunting, difficult problem to opportunities to make things better
Emily Swaddle 1:59
Yeah Tom described himself as a waste data geek, I think. And I just loved that because whose a waste data geek. But we need those people in this world and waste might seem like a kind of weird topic to be enthusiastic about, but genuinely their enthusiasm was contagious.
Barry O'Kane 2:19
Very much so. So without any further ado, let's meet Tom and Sophie.
Sophie Walker 2:27
Hi, I'm Sophie Walker. I'm the COO and co founder of Dsposal, and a founding director of Your Dsposal, which is the new social enterprise we've just started. And we build tech to try and make dealing with your waste easier and bring transparency to the supply chain.
Tom Passmore 2:43
And I'm Tom Passmore, the other co founder and CEO of Dsposal. I don't really have that much to do with Your Dsposal because I'm the evil corporate entity in the background.
Barry O'Kane 2:57
Wonderful. I wanted to just preface some of the things we were talking about here is the overarching topic, I guess, of the of the season is Circular Economy, and technology in the Circular Economy. And so to start us off, Tom, Sophie, I'm really interested just to hear, I guess, how you see Circular Economy, and where all the amazing all the various different things and work you're doing and Dsposal in Your Dsposal in terms of waste fits into that broad definition, if that makes sense.
Sophie Walker 3:25
So the circular economy is essentially about using the materials and the resources that we have in a more effective and efficient manner. And so coming from a kind of waste industry angle, generally that ends up being referred to around kind of better recycling and better fates, the things that we choose to throw away things at the end of their life. And so, where we kind of sit in the circular economy, certainly around that kind of end of life side of things. And what we're hoping to do, what we're kind of what our mission is, is to try to make that journey once you put something in the bin more obvious and connects people to it so that people understand that when they throw something away, that that is somewhere and that that goes somewhere and actually then hoping that by giving people that visibility of those pathways, once that stuff ends up in the bin, that you can help to move that into a better state than where most of it ends up currently. And for us, a big part of that is around creating the data around that because actually, we have in this country, we have very little data around what happens to the things that we throw away. We just genuinely don't know how much we create, where it is, how much is or really what happens to most of it. And so that's kind of where we fit in and where we are trying to make a bit of a difference. But I have to say that like the circular economy is about so much more than that part of it. That's almost it's the sort of the last resort part of it, isn't it Tom? It's so much more about moving things higher up the value chain in terms of keeping things in their most useful state for as long as possible, not just recycling on several
Tom Passmore 5:03
Yeah, I mean, it's all trying to like getting actually the kind of three ideas of the circular economy or that idea of slow the flow, close the loop and narrow the palette. So like, make the materials that we've got easier to work with and use. And so everyone knows what there are, reduce the amount of those materials that we've got in the world. And then make sure that those materials which are simpler, and that there's less of them, flow back round. So it all just connects up. And yeah, so we're, I want to see the data of it like because I'm like, I have a data background and a waste background, which is a rare mix, really. And it's this being able to visualise where all of the materials are that are in our products that will one day become waste. Because there are companies like massive mining companies in the world that absolutely love spending huge amounts of money on doing research missions to find out where there's gold, copper, oil, gas, coal, and they'll just spend millions on doing that to see if it's a) where is it? b) Can we get to it? c) will we return on investment on it. Whereas we don't do anything with the materials that we actually already have in this world. And I just think that's a massive disconnect. So that's what we're trying to. That's what we're trying to do basically mapping, trying to map all of the resources that already exists that will one day become waste. ish.
Barry O'Kane 6:30
Yeah, what I was just about to say, that's no small undertaking that's huge, and actually really inspiring. And I love the work that you do. So let's talk a little bit like define what that means. And like you've got the Dsposal and Your Dsposal sites and applications. Can you talk a little bit about what they are? And you know how you're actually trying to solve that big goal you've just described?
Tom Passmore 6:50
Yeah, so kind of Dsposal and Your Dsposal. Like all of these like loosely coupled parts to help everyone understand waste, understand the waste industry and understand what happens next? So one of the parts is helping people know that as a waste producer, someone that produces waste as a homeowner, you have to know where your waste goes to next. And those people have to be licensed. So we try to make that as easy as possible. We use environmental agency data to do that. But then that's all written in jargon. So then we kind of, like translate that into layman's speak by using what we call the waste thesaurus. So in the waste industry, everything's just a six digit code. So like 010101, when actually what they mean is fertiliser waste or packing material, or
what was when we had the other day in the waste thesaurus people looking up, I mean, we get random things like Greg or smoke or smoke, which opened up a whole can of worms. Can of worms that would be another waste. And then the other side of it is in trying to make it easier for these waste companies, to understand their compliance, so understanding that they have this what's called a duty of care. And then as this goes along, we're starting to connect the materials that people are trying to get rid of finding out the people that can take those, finding out where it goes after that. And then all of the time layering this data up, to get to the point where it's just like, okay, you have a glass, we know exactly what code that's going to be. We know exactly where it's going to go next. And because of that, we can start mapping this whole industry, but like from a, you know, doing it the right way, impetus not let's just create data and sell it to the highest bidder.
Sophie Walker 8:39
I think part of the issue for us has been that, although so yes, Tom said that we use the Environment Agency public registers API, and that is a really useful tool for us, and it powers our directory. But in terms of other kinds of data infrastructure in the industry, there's very little and so like our waste thesaurus is, I think the largest English language waste thesaurus on the planet. And it's used by 10s of thousands of people all around the world. And, you know, Tom spent literally months of his time building that. And so we've built an API for that. Because we just think, well, actually, we don't really want other people having to spend months of their time doing the same work. So how do we, how do we kind of streamline and make our time more efficiently used as well as the resources that we're talking about in terms of materials? And so for us, what we've realised since we got into it, and we didn't realise this at the start is actually there's a lot of infrastructure that needs to be built to enable the type of data kind of gathering and analysis that we think is important if we're going to try and move to a circular economy. And so we've sort of started to embark on trying to build some of that data infrastructure, which Yeah, is again another big undertaking, but
Tom Passmore 9:53
yeah, we like to be big undertakings.
Emily Swaddle 9:55
Yeah, I imagine you do because it sounds like this is just vast and huge amounts of data that need to kind of be made available to people. What I find interesting is that, you know, as a society haven't, we've kind of always produced waste, I suppose, in some way or another. And so I'm kind of interested, do you think that now is a particularly pertinent time to be? Why do you think this is such a big question now? And do you think that maybe the fact that we are all generally becoming much more comfortable with dealing with huge amounts of data and kind of searching through all that, that it's becoming easier to get this data out there?
Sophie Walker 10:37
So I think there's a few different things that happened. I mean, I think, in terms of Yes, we've always created waste to some extent or other but certainly since about the sort of Victorian times are like the amount of waste we've created, is ramped up and has continued to ramp up. And I think one of the things that happened was Blue Planet 2, right, and suddenly people are seeing these images and kind of come Isn't it with packaging that they recognise and that they can think, gosh, you know, that could have been my bottle that could have been my drinking straw that could have been my plastic bag. And I think that that connected people to that waste in a way that they hadn't been connected to before. Because most of us, we put the stuff in the bin, you know, we wheel out to the curb side or whatever, once a week, and then we just don't really give it a second thought do we? And I think seeing those images, I think what that did was really brought that home to people and made people think, Oh my god, like how much? You know, like, how much of this is out there? And actually, could it be mine? And so I do feel that this is a really, you know, I feel like there's a movement here of awakening and that people are really sort of engaged in it in a way that they haven't been before. And so I do you think there's an opportunity at the moment to think about how we do this differently and how we do it better and for me part of that has to be about that transparency, because at the moment, you couldn't answer the question, could that be my bottle? Because actually, the waste chains are so complex and so opaque that it's almost impossible to answer that. And so how do we, you know, enable that transparency and enable that accountability? Well, to me, that's about having the data and being able to kind of actually report on it and say, you know, what, Hampshire Council make sure that all of their stuff gets, you know, all their plastic ends up a recycling plant in Warrington, I don't know Do you know whatever it is like and that they burn the stuff that they can't recycle and their plastic ends up, they know where it goes and they know what their where their cans end up and they know where their paper ends up, blah, blah, blah, and that you could actually as a, you know, somebody lived in that county think Okay, cool. I get that and I understand why it's important for me to properly segregate my waste or to make sure that I don't put random stuff in my bin because I know what happens to it. And there's actually I'm kind of tied to it in some way. So,
Tom Passmore 13:06
and I think, so people have, like, people really care about where their products come from. So it's just like, I know this is English beef, or this is like this was made in Italian handbag made here or this de de de, I really care about this province. And actually, I think something happens. And yeah, maybe it was blue planet two, or like, yeah, it was some of these other programs that have happened that people go, Wait, what happens next, actually, and then because people went down this whole kind of plastic free route. And then there's been kind of kickback from that for various different reasons. But I think actually, people are starting to think, oh what happens to this next? I know where it came from, where is it going to now? And I think that's, like that just doesn't that's really difficult to unpick. And that basically, I think you can only do that with data. You can only do that with technology. You can't do it on paper based, especially if you want to release it to the general public because actually the majority If waste is probably picked up and paid for by local authorities
Emily Swaddle 14:04
Hmm, yeah, that's interesting, the kind of David Attenborough effect on peoples thought process around all this, I do definitely tend to kind of have a little smile to myself when I see someone kind of dithering over recycling bin wondering how to separate their waste. And, you know, putting a lot of thought into it because I relate, you know, I don't know all the time where I should put things and don't be don't know where it goes after that. And I, I always think I should find out more about this. And then, because I don't know where to go, because it's not readily available to me, that never really happens. Yeah, how can I? Or someone like me, or maybe a business? How can we use your platform to help with those sorts of things?
Sophie Walker 14:47
Yeah, well, so first off, you're not alone, right? And even people in the industry, it's funny you see people on Twitter or LinkedIn say Look, I know I should know this, but what am I supposed to do with this item in such and such. So that confusion and that lack of understanding is totally, you know, is across the board, basically. And that's a problem, right? So. So what we're trying to do with our tools is try to make those things easier. And so we don't have the data in terms of household stuff around which bins should you put what in that data isn't open. And so it's not publicly available. So unfortunately, we don't have that kind of information on Dsposal. It's something that we'd be interested in trying to build and make open because we think that that would be helpful to people. One of the things that we've done is, we've got a lot of the household waste recycling centres on Dsposal. So what we used to refer to as your local tip, and we don't have it for the whole country, and we don't have them all on yet, because we're using the Environment Agency Public Register is only England at the moment. And we've put very basic information on that because we've basically just got what they've got on their website. But yeah, because we're good at SEO and because we've done a decent job of like laying out the information. our search results are turning up fairly high when people are looking for their local tip. And actually, we've found since COVID 19, that with the closures of the tips and then the reopening of them, I mean, our traffic has absolutely skyrocketed, because there's so many people trying to find information now. And are, you know, totally confused and different councils put the information in different places, they format it in different ways they've got all of them have got a different process. Even more so now with the whole pandemic thing of like how they're going to handle increases in traffic. Some of them have got alternating number plate system, some of them you have to pre book some of them, they're only opening up, you know, funny hours, there's all sorts of different things going on. And people are just completely, you know, confused and unsure what to do. And so we're seeing a lot of you know, we're seeing a lot of traffic of people looking for that information. And so again, this is something that we're really keen to try and do is to actually build a standard for that information, around houseshold waste recycling centres. An open data standard so that everybody talks about the stuff in the same way. And then you could allow anyone anywhere to use that data to create websites like Dsposal or other services or I don't know, like an app or whatever it is that you wanted to do with that data to get that information to the most amount of people. Because at the moment, yeah, that information is not making its way easily to people. And then so in terms of businesses, where our tools come in is, again, like I said, most businesses don't really think about it a huge amount, they kind of find a contractor, and then they think, Okay, cool. They gave me a bunch of paper at the start, which basically, they said was about compliance, and I just filed it away, because I don't know what to look at it. So we've built tools to try and make it easier for people to actually think about their waste compliance and to meet their legal obligations. So one, if you use a company that's listed on Dsposal, then you know that they are licensed, which is the first step and then we've built like a semi automated audit tool to help help people to carry out a waste audit on their waste contractor which, you know, apart from people in the industry, no one knows that they should do that or how to do it. So, again, it's using technology to make those tasks that are a bit daunting and a bit tedious and make them you know, kind of simpler and easier. Yeah. And then we've built a load of notifications, basically, where if you're using a waste contract when you follow them on Dsposal, if their license expires, or I don't know, their insurance or something like that, you're notified of that. So you don't accidentally use someone who's illegal. And the reason we've kind of focused on compliance as a starting point is that actually, in terms of the circular economy, it might seem like a bit of a tangent but if you don't keep those materials in the system with licensed legitimate operators, then the fate of that material is almost certainly going to be landfill possibly get burned.
Tom Passmore 18:55
Yeah, and it's leaking. So again, like kind of Circular Economy like terminologies like It's leaking out of these loops. And you should have leaky loops to an extent. But if it's just going in destination, end of life just getting burned to landfill, then it's done. So it's like, if we can try to get all of these materials within these loops circulating, then we have a better chance than if it just goes into a landfill or get burned.
Barry O'Kane 19:21
Hmm, really one of the interesting things that you touched on there, which I think must be especially difficult for them in the challenge that you're trying to undertake or solve. Is you talked about the data being available. And then also, you mentioned SEO and kind of making the data, you know, spreading the data or the use of that data, almost like a two sided marketplace sort of problem, right? You're trying to collate and collect and improve the data and then work out how to make it available. Is that a fair analogy?
Tom Passmore 19:50
Yeah. And it's honestly it's hard because. So pretty much all of the waste industry is private like there are some kinds of public entities that run their own service. But most of its gone over to proper enterprise. And they're like, Oh, no, but this is our data, just like Yeah, but you're doing a public service. You're getting paid to do this, or no, yeah, but it's our data. So when Sophie was saying about the collection rounds, so like, there is no way for us to say, Oh, you live in Scunthorpe. This is your postcode. Therefore, we know what bins will be collected from your address because that data is not held by the local authority. It's held by the collection company that picks it up. So we're trying to gather this knowledge, clean it, like normalise it, validate it, and then release it so that everyone has access to it. But it's from a world that's like, oh no, there's a lot of money in data. So we want to keep it like yes, but there's more money and resources. So you should release the data. So then we can get more resources back into the loop and There's a like, there's no, there's a tension there that is interesting. And like, so yeah, we're trying to be this pass through. And because I kind of aims and vision is, it's very much kind of community focused of like just providing this knowledge. So it makes a whole system better. And then we're bouncing off commercial entities.
Sophie Walker 21:21
I mean, that's actually that's why we founded the social enterprises that we acknowledge the fact that as a, Dsposal, as a private company, limited by shares and to you know, is profit making, shouldn't be. There's a tension there in terms of if it's saying all this stuff should be open and, you know, and it should be for the greater good, but where then potentially profiting from it doesn't really necessarily look very good. And so, we wanted to create Your Dsposal to handle that kind of the sort of infrastructure that we think is for the greater good and for the community and society and the environment and not hold that under our profit making arm essentially So yeah, there's definitely
Tom Passmore 22:02
Yeah. And it's hard honestly, it's really hard like we didn't Dsposal came out of an idea or on a bike ride, like as in a very long bike ride, but a bike ride nonetheless. And it was all just about this idea of, from when I was working as a sales coordinator in a waste management company, Like I'm building Dsposal for my 25 year old self like, I like technology. I like information. I'd like my sales coords, and my sales reps and my technical team and my MD and all of these different people to have all the information that's available. So when I left that job on when cycle touring with Sophie, like all I thought about when we were cycling around the USA and Canada was how do I make the waste industry more collaborative? Which you know... Yes, Sophie was thinking of different things were more cycling around, but like that's where it came out of was basically just to try to make this easier for myself and then it's exploded into this, right? Okay, so how do we release? How do we build the infrastructure to capture this data so we can release it into the open. So people will be able to understand what resources they have in their waste bin to then add a value to that to make sure that people then put it to the right place. So it can go back through the loop. And so Oh, yeah, this is why we didn't really like we never planned on this. But this is like from conversations, this is the problem. And you can't build compliance software, you can't build directories. If the problem is actually much deeper than that well, and actually, if the infrastructure doesn't exist,
Sophie Walker 23:38
So like I said, with the EA Public Register, it lists everyone who's got a permit or a license and a few other things if you want to get that information, but it doesn't have the details of those permits. So there's no centralised, digitised way of finding out whether a particular waste site is allowed to deal with a particular waste stream I mean, they have the information, it's on PDFs or on paper, but they haven't put it in a central digitized form that people can access. So you can go on the Environment Agency website, and you can find a particular waste site. And then you can request that they send you via the post, I think, an actual paper copy of their permit. But you can't look online and see the information. And that's, I mean, that's insane in this day and age. And that's the same for the regulators, right as in as a regulator. Say that you go to a site and you think all this something's a bit off here. I need to check their permit to see whether they're allowed to deal with this. If I want to find their permit. As somebody works the moment they have to go and literally dig it out of a filing cabinet.
Emily Swaddle 24:45
Yeah, so in very cool, very, yeah, I love that approach. It's the kind of, you know, let's make this data as widely available as we can in order for everyone to benefit from it. And I love the fact that it came from a big cycling trip. Like this is a movie waiting to happen somewhere. But especially with something like waste, because the mismanagement of waste I mean waste is, like I said, it's universal. It's something we've created throughout our whole existence as humans. And the mismanagement of it can be so dangerous and detrimental to the environment, our health, and, you know, kind of everything really. So yeah, I really love that approach. I saw on your website that you have some great values is going to be very value driven. And also from the story that you've been telling. Very value driven, which is great to see.
Sophie Walker 25:40
Yeah, I mean, it's funny that our values we really early on actually, we created them. I think we'd been listening to a podcast about Airbnb, and they said that they've done their values pretty early on and there was a couple of other companies that who had interesting valleys that are done the early on, and we just thought. Yeah, we are so even at that point, really At the start of things, we were clearly in it, we were kind of mission driven, even though we didn't quite know what the mission was at that point. And so we sat down really, at the start and kind of created those. And so the values are "because there is no away, resources are limited act like it and cultivate the compost". And they're odd. I'd admit that, but they're really specific to us. And they mean a lot to us. And interestingly, when we interviewed our first our developer, Georgios, we asked him to do a presentation as part of his interview. And in his presentation, he spoke about two of those values, even though at that point, we hadn't published them on the website yet. As in nobody knew about them except us. And he's still with us. And he's an absolute, total legend. He's amazing. Like, he's the perfect employee. And the fact that those values spoke to him even though you know, as in they, they're so weird, right? They're not universal in this they're not like integrity or honesty or those things that you see for lots of people's values, and that's fine. You're welcome to them like, but I just, there's something so powerful, I think about the fact that, that we were able to find somebody who gets those values and they speak to him. And so and as they speak to us, and so yeah, values are really important to us. And when we're, like, when we're struggling with something, if we really can't make a decision on something, Tom always just says, we just we always should just fall back to our values and yeah, make sense with the values, then we can figure out what the right decision is.
Tom Passmore 27:30
Yeah, like if there's ever a hard decision to make or if there's like, should we go A or B? It's just like, Okay, well, let's talk through our values with both of these decisions, like, does it cultivate the compost? Like, does it like, does it acknowledge that resources are limited and it's just saying, Well, not really, okay, so we'll move like as in, we're moving away from that. So actually, like values are so important to like, let you let the business guide you almost in what needs to be good. needs to happen because we're, the values are there and you agree with them, you set them up for a reason. And you hold them dear. So let them work for you in that way when it comes down to hard decision making processes.
Barry O'Kane 28:14
I love the fact that the values are eclectic, like it's more genuine. It's more personal than those generics things you see quite often, you know, and then you ask the people on the team to tell you what the values are. And they look a bit blankly and they have to go and look them up. I'd like to sort of talk a little bit about the how of what you're doing. So we've talked a lot about this broad reaching goals and some of the challenges. But can you talk a little bit about how you started going about where you started? Okay, I'm gonna solve this problem. Did you start going, Okay, I need to collect the data, I need to do this, or did you immediately imagine that like the dashboard and thesaurus? How did you sort of get some of the process from Okay, we're gonna work on this problem to having built a web application.
Tom Passmore 28:58
So before we went cycle turing I was working for a waste management company and all we had like loads of different systems and communications was poor, like as you're not like poor, it's just kind of like a standard company really like. And everything was all in different places. And everyone's work was siloed. And I was just like, Oh, this is a problem. And then I tried to create solutions within the business. But for various reasons, like some of them really connected, others didn't, which was fine, and then went on to a cycle trip as a said, right? What, what went wrong there? You know, nine months on the bike, all I thought about was creating systems in the waste industry. And it was just like, right, well, what are the issues within the industry? Well, first of all, no one knows what an EWC code is. I mean, do you a review to know what I need to be see coders?
Emily Swaddle 29:47
I have no idea.
Tom Passmore 29:49
So I actually get the acronym wrong sometimes as well.
Sophie Walker 29:53
The European Waste Catalog code
Tom Passmore 29:55
there we go. So and basically there are 842 of them and they identify every single item that can be classed as waste. So basically anything. So I'm sat here in front of a cup that has a need EWC code. I'm sat next to some books, they have an EWC code. The problem is, there are more than 842 items in the world, but there are only 842 codes, so we have to map them. So that was the first problem in my head. How do we map words to codes when there's definitely not enough codes?
Sophie Walker 30:32
And that's because you have lots of people, customers would contact you and say, oh, I've got tramp oil. Yeah. What code? Is it supposed to be?
Tom Passmore 30:41
Yeah, so then we'd go like, so. tramp oil? Yeah, cool. I haven't heard of that before. Even in a real world scenario. I haven't heard of tramp oil. Okay, I'll go to the technical team. They're like is this comes up once every year. Is it this company? Yes, it is. What is tramp I can't remember you have to look back in the system. Okay. Look back. In the system, find the code, which was the right mess. So it took me probably about three hours to find the code for tramp oil. And it's just like, why is this the way? Because Surely there's just a directory somewhere. So I looked for this directory or thesaurus didn't find one. And then thought, well, I should build it. I don't know why I thought that seemed like a good idea at the time.
Yeah. And therefore, I'd
you know, be really useful, we should then tack this on to the licenses and permits, because every permit has a list of all of the EWC codes that that company can get rid of. So somewhere might only deal with paper, so all of their codes are to do with paper. So I was like, Okay, what I'll do is I'll get in touch with the Environment Agency, the people who regulate these sites and create these permits, and I'll get that data off them. And then so I sent them an email, they reply back saying, Yeah, you can have that through our API. I was like, brilliant, that is fantastic. And then that data wasn't there. So you couldn't look at a site in Norwich to see this six digit code, the six digit EWC code. So then I was like, Okay, now we have to get the data. Now we have to get the information off these permits, tying them against these sites to then tie them against to the waste thesaurus. So if someone looks up cardboard box, they know the EWC code, then it maps to a permit. And it maps to a location.
Sophie Walker 31:24
What a bunch of permits and a bunch of
Tom Passmore 31:33
Yeah, so I don't know the Why just it was a problem that existed and I wanted to solve it.
Sophie Walker 32:30
Well, I think I mean, part of it was the fact that you used to also spend a huge amount of your time when you worked at that waste company sending out the duty of care information to your customers. So Tom would have panicked customers saying, oh, we're being audited for ISO or being audited by the Environment Agency or whoever, can you send me all of all the duty of care information for you as our waste contractor and so Tom would have to then take all those documents out an email them off to them. And so Tom's solution at the waste company was I will put them all on the website. And then they can just access them directly. And we don't have to send them out. But they didn't manage their own website. And so if they wanted to update them when they ran out, which they, you know, invariably do they expire, they'd have to contact the marketing company that manage their website and wait for them to do it. And, you know, without fail, whenever a customer rang up in a panic, that'd be something out of date on the website, and they'd be stressed out and hacked off about it. And so again, it was this idea about, or rather than me putting them on my website, and that person putting them on their website, and that person having a pack that they email out, and that you know, and the customers are having to go to their different waste companies to get all this information for when they get audited. Tom's idea was, can we simplify that and just put it somewhere like an online hub, where all the ways companies put that information on and all of the waste producers are able to access that information whenever they need, simply and in a single place. All of the waste contractors they use rather than the huge inefficiencies that are currently the case, which is You know, all these emails flying around and documents in the wrong place and people panicking and websites being out of date. And so I think your idea was it was twofold wasn't one of it was trying to help people to find places to take weird waste that they maybe hadn't dealt with before. Because again, that was used to try and do. And then the other thing was, how do you make it easy for people to find the information out about there?
Tom Passmore 34:21
Yes, it was like a two way kinds of work. So you were like, I want to get rid of this waste. It goes up the chain and gets disposed off. But then also you have all this information about all the places it goes to, and then you keep getting notified. So then if things change, then you're able to view those changes. And yeah, like just basically creating the technical infrastructure and understanding the way the waste worked to do that. Because the other thing how I kind of haven't mentioned is, I wanted to do this job, but I didn't want to set up a business. So on the cycle trip, I was like, Yes, we can do this or and because it's me, I've had this idea, that's fine. This will definitely exist somewhere. So I'll just go and work for them, that company will be definitely what I want to do. So I spent the first four, six months when we got back looking for that company, like spending a lot of time looking for that company, just never found them, and then thought I will never get to do that job. And then Sophie was just like, why don't you set up a business?
Barry O'Kane 35:21
So it's her fault.
Tom Passmore 35:22
yes, I blame her fairly frequently.
Barry O'Kane 35:27
Looking back and having told that story, how far do you feel you've managed to move that needle? What's the impact you feel that Dsposal in Your Dsposal is made?
Sophie Walker 35:36
It's so slow, right. As in I
Tom Passmore 35:39
do have loads of competitors now.
Sophie Walker 35:41
Now, we do well, not loads. We've got some competitors now. But I think what's interesting is that so when Tom came up with the idea, and he spoke to people, everyone said, Oh, yeah, no, it's a good idea, but I think it exists, which is why he then went off to try and find it, and then why we've ended up doing it but. And I think part of the issue is is that most people do not I understand that what you would expect to be fairly basic kind of elements of infrastructure to allow the kind of tech that we've built, they just don't exist. And so actually, yes, we've had to build them, some of them from scratch. And then some of them, we just we haven't been able to build yet. And we have to try and find workarounds for it. So like with the permits, like I was talking about, and the fact they're not centrally digitised, that's why we have the directory for you know, part of the reason we have the directory is to try and encourage those waste companies to put that information on, so that people can find them. And they can win business through it, but also so that all their customers can find that information and readily access it so that it's easier for everybody. But if that data existed centrally, we wouldn't have to do that. And it really should exist centrally. But instead, we're having to go through individually cajoling waste companies to claim their profiles and put their information on and so it's been really slow, but I think that considering the fact that we only we launched the platform in March 2018. And I think actually, we've, we have done a lot in that time, like I said, so the waste thesaurus, I think is probably the most used waste the waste thesaurus on the planet, because I don't think there's any others that are as functional. We've had people from Europe and stuff, contact you to who found it and find it really useful. You want it to work with you on it. We've had, yeah, we get people visiting it from literally every corner of the globe. And so, clearly, you know, we are making a difference, but it is I think it's slow progress, but I want everything to be done immediately.
Tom Passmore 37:40
Yeah. But like I said, we've had some really interesting chats with so Defra so the Department of Environment Farming, Food Rural affairs, we have changed the way that they think about waste and the infrastructure that goes into it because they didn't see it in the same way that we did. We were like I know it needs to be holistic. It needs to be systems thinking it needs to be at that level. And they were looking at trying to just produce a software solution. We were like, No, no, the government shouldn't create a software solution. The government needs to create infrastructure to allow an ecosystem of software solutions to exist.
Sophie Walker 38:18
You need to just preface that to say that they are working on trying to digitally track every single waste transaction at the moment. And we got to work on that project at the initial stage of the discovery phase.
Tom Passmore 38:29
And it was like, and that was fantastic. Because we were like, No, no, so you, and then we were trying to determine what this word transaction meant, like, is it financial transaction? Or is it what level? Is it just a pickup from A to B movement? Or is it actually now getting to the level of looking at the materials within the waste that you've got, so I get rid of the TV, because someone's manufactured that. Does that have a list of all the materials they have built into like a QR code or barcode or what ever that goes, Okay, now I know all of the materials that's in this, and therefore I know all the wastes in this, therefore Actually, that's more of a resource than a waste, therefore has a financial value. So yeah, and they're so starting to look at that at that level. And then yeah, there's some different things going on. But again, it's slow, because actually, it's, this is at a governmental level, not at a startup level. So I'm like, yeah, we're really impatient. But we have different experience like so we'll go out and talk to different people. And then we feed that back to the government like so I send emails back to the head of, the guy that runs that project kind of constantly based on my experience. Not because we want to win the project, like the next phase of the project, but because it needs to be solved. This problem needs to be solved.
Did that answer your question?
Emily Swaddle 39:53
Feel free. Rant away. That's really interesting. The idea of it being part a kind of ecosystem of solutions to a systemic and holistic problem. Because you mentioned at the beginning as well how the waste and of things is only a part of the circular economy cycle and the whole kind of thing. So that's kind of nice to see it in a whole formation with lots of other solutions there.
Tom Passmore 40:21
Yeah, like and I think that's the thing like, like the circular economy is all kinds of about these like interconnected flowing loops. And like that has to be with every aspect of it. Like you have to understand where things are coming from who's moving it around, who's creating it, where's it going what's in there. So then get the best understanding of what happens next. There's no one solution that fits all. So like, it just doesn't exist. It's like, I'm wearing slippers because I'm at home but they're useless. If I want to go out hiking in the hills, like we need different tools for tools for different jobs, and build it like so with the government thinking it would build one app to solve this problem of the waste industry. It's saying no, like, no go, like your government think at higher level here like you can produce this infrastructure. Because then if you're talking about waste at that level, then you can talk about materials at that level. So then you start actually talking to not just the waste side of the industry, but the manufacturing side of the industry, because you're talking about the same thing. Because if you're saying it's a TV, and you need to get rid of it, that's definitely waste. 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. And then yeah,
Sophie Walker 41:38
yeah, because I think what they were looking at is building a regulatory system to allow the regulators to better manage those waste transactions and to tackle waste crime. Which is really important and definitely needs to be done. But you know, at this point, that's not enough. Like we have to go beyond that. And it's, yeah, it's about linking that up with the whole the understanding around resources and material flows through the economy. And so then you can actually start to see those waste materials as resources and as materials that if they're handled, right, and if they're, you know, identified, and if we know how much there is and where they are, and what happens to them are quality they are, all that kind of stuff. They have a value attached to it. And then they're much more likely to end up somewhere good and being reused. Because actually, it's a thing. It's not just a pile of junk that we don't know what it is. And so, I think it has to be, you know, we do need to think about it in a systemic way. And you know, like, as you've said, and as we believe, like everyone is a waste producer, every business every person, everybody, and so, it's something that is totally universal, and so you can't build a single thing that will fit for, you know, a householder, a hairdresser, you know, a chain of coffee shops, a massive manufacturer, a re processor, a recycler, an incineration plant, a government, a regulator. Like they all have totally different needs. And so how do you... how do you enable innovation to create solutions for all of those different needs? Well, you have to kind of basically build the fundamental infrastructure and open it up. That's what you have to do. And if you do that, then who knows where it's going to end up, right? That's so exciting if you build that infrastructure, and I use the analogy when we spoke about this to Defra of a park, like, when the Victorians created all of our lovely parks. I cannot imagine any of them could have thought that something like parkrun would exist, right? But you create the infrastructure and then people, communities, societies it use it. And that use changes over time because our needs change over time. And that's what's exciting about building fundamental infrastructure. It's not kind of sexy and kind of shiny, but it's the possibilities that it enables by building those foundations as long as you do them in an open way that people can actually, you know, play with and integrate with and build on, then the possibilities are endless. And that's really cool.
Barry O'Kane 44:12
Yeah, fat is really cool. And that was incredibly inspiring that I to them, they said right away, that was amazing. I was thinking there that, like, where you're describing this. It's not just the sort of technology or the business, but this kind of vision of change of a much broader change. And then wondering, you know, well, you know, that could be quite easy to become overwhelming, and you just want to, you know, pull the blanket over your head and hide. But when you spin it, like he just said, Sophie with the excitement and the potential being involved in on or impacting something like that. That's just incredible.
Sophie Walker 44:42
Yeah, and I mean, why not write as in I just think incremental change isn't going to fit, we're in a pickle, right with, with the climate emergency and things, you know, like the pandemic they were experiencing, in the moment, a huge shock to our system, and we're going to have to figure out ways to become more resilient and more more adaptable. And to me, the way that we can do that in a kind of in a sustainable way, is by building really good foundations. And I just think, you know, why shouldn't that be inspired by a tiny company like us, or anyone else? Like, I just think that we've all got to play our part in it. And that's why I don't, you know, it has to be, we have to open it up to anyone because what we're talking about, I'm sure there's loads of flaws in it, I'm sure there's things that won't work in it. But that's why we want to collaborate with people. That's why we want to work with as many people as we can, and to get people talking about it and to look at it because these are massive, wicked systemic problems that we're only going to fix if we're all paying attention and trying to do something about it. And I think that that can Yeah, can lead us to a much better place than where we've been. But we need to all be part of it. And I just Yeah, I don't know that definitely gets me out of bed in the morning and I really I like a challenge.
Emily Swaddle 46:04
That's really cool. The idea of laying that foundation and opening it up and having that as a basis of how can we solve this problem together, but also the idea of enforcing this duty of care that you mentioned, and empowering people in that way to maybe pick up on the duty of care. I don't know, maybe this is something you've also thought about. If the duty of care is enforced in this particular area, perhaps it can empower people to be more active and think about their duty of care in other environmental issues and areas.
Tom Passmore 46:35
Yeah, like so. I've always wanted to do a, like gamification of local authority bin collection rounds, so goes okay, we know that you're on this round. And on this round your area picked up 15.3 tonnes of aluminium, great, on this week. Fantastic. Did you know that all aluminium is gone to this plant? It got melted down, it produced an ingot, then it's gone over to Germany got been turned into beverage cans. Now that aluminium that you recycled six weeks ago is now back on the shelves being used again in beverage cans. And I think people, like, if you've got those notifications about that recycling, you'd be like,
works like, and especially if it's in real time like that, again, real time, like, what, six weeks later, you get a can and, it could be the same aluminium that you drank out of six weeks before, like, that's, I don't know that for me. That's wonderful. And then you could do that with paper. You could do that with all of the different items, you could really gamify it in like a really nice way. Which is it's passive. As in, you're thinking about doing the recycling or whatever. And then your mate says "ah like our street recycled 15 tonnes of aluminium this week that save this much energy, reduce co2 emissions by this amount and now it's in a new aluminium cans". You'd be like, what?. That's really good. How did you know that? Like, I would be like, sorry, I got really excited that you can't see what my hands are like gesturing. I would love that as a tool that we got from our local authorities.
Sophie Walker 48:14
I think it's funny because Tom and I have talked about duty of care a lot, as you might imagine, and we've debated a lot around, should duty of care be something that is kind of conscious, and that you expect people to make a conscious choice about. So like with that part of the idea with the gamification is that you kind of engaging with it, and it makes it fun and exciting, and it gives you feedback. And I think that is cool, and that's a good thing to happen. But we've to toed-and-froed a lot on the idea of people being compliant with duty of care, and actually, what's the outcome that you want? You want the most people possible to do the right thing, to do it as you want them to? And so actually, whether they do that knowingly and kind of consciously or whether they do that, because you've managed to make the right thing, the thing that you want them to do, the easy thing, well actually, that's probably better, because you're more likely to get more people to then do it. Because not everyone is going to care. And not everyone is going to go out of their way to make the right choice. And so instead of the right choice being a pallava, and a kind of total kerfuffle to try and you know, so standing over your recycling bin, hming and ahhing about whether or not you can put this tetrapack in your bin in your home like or whether, you know, does your council recycle them? You've heard that they recycle them somewhere, but is your council one of them? I can't find the information at all. I don't know. Like that. It shouldn't be the case. It should just be it's so easy to do the right thing that you do it sort of unconsciously. And so we've kind of talked about passive compliance, we want to make it so easy for people to do the right thing that they just do it unwittingly. But I do think that hand in hand with that having things that raise awareness around what actually happens to this stuff and so that you can reinforce that behaviour is really important. So and then I think you're right that then potentially, you know, can you then spread that idea that accountability, that kind of responsibility and that, you know, consciously choosing to have a duty of care? I like the term duty of care. I think it speaks to something, right. And yeah. And so could you then take that and apply it to other areas of, you know, of environmental decision making around, you know, choosing not to drive so much or, you know, insulating your house properly? I don't know. Yeah, I think that there's some interesting potential crossovers there. But again, I think if you want people to do those things, we've got to find ways to make those things easier for people. And at the moment, unfortunately, a lot of sort of the more environmentally friendly decisions often appear to be more of a chore than the kind of convenient, quick throw away decisions that our kind of economy seems to be built on.
Barry O'Kane 50:56
Yeah, yeah. Or at least unclear as to what the right this is, as you mentioned, or there's so much and we feel like we've barely scratched the surface of many of the things we've touched on. So for anybody who's listening who wants to find out more about the work, you're doing more about Dsposal and Your Dsposal. Or get involved in this kind of conversation, where should they go?
Sophie Walker 51:16
So we're on twitter at YourDsposal and Dsposal is without the eye because we're real tech company. So we have to drop a vowel. It's at Y O U R D S P O S A L or you can go to Dsposal.uk. Again, D S P O S A L.uk. And there's lots of ways to contact us on both of those. So that's probably the easiest. Yeah,
Barry O'Kane 51:38
Awesome. And as usual, we'll put those links and a summary of everything we've talked about on HappyPorchRadio.com. Thank you, Tom. Thank you. Sophie. Really, really enjoyed that conversation. I wish we could keep going for another, you know, for the same again.
Sophie Walker 51:52
Thank you so much for having us. Yeah.
Tom Passmore 51:54
It's been really good fun.
Barry O'Kane 51:54
Thank you. As always, thanks, Emily.
Emily Swaddle 51:56
Thanks, Barry. Thank you, Tom and Sophie
Tom Passmore 51:59
Thank you Emily, Thank you Barry.
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