Discovering what’s possible: Mandalay Technologies

Local governments are increasingly leveraging digital vouchers to reduce liability, supported by data to provide tailored services to their customers.

Like every other sector, councils across the country are navigating the brave new world of COVID-19 and social distancing.

Delivering essential public health services such as water, sewerage, and waste, many of which are continually evolving to deal with a climate-conscious general public, is no easy task. For some councils, the concern is to continue to do so without delaying or reducing rates, fees and charges.

For example, the Local Government Association of Queensland has laid out a COVID-19 battleplan, highlighting its desire to partner with the Queensland Government to lead communities in recovery.

As reported by Waste Management Review in the May article Supporting business continuity, software provider Mandalay Technologies has been focused on aiding the transition.

With many businesses forced to digitise their operations overnight to meet social distancing requirements, Managing Director Simon Kalinowski sees it as an opportunity for councils to improve their core services.

“Waste is an essential service, and one in which improved service outcomes and revenue are very much intertwined,” he says.

As a result of COVID-19, Simon acknowledges that many councils will be faced with external pressures to support their community, whether it be bad debts, fluctuating commodity prices, or otherwise, which will impact their bottom line.

“The performance of their operations, including the efficiency of those services, is going to come under increasing pressure, so we need to see better performing councils,” he says.

WAVES OF CHANGE

Simon says digital relationships with customers, and their customers, across the entire supply chain are opening up a range of possibilities. It comes as the waste profile, which has seen significant changes over the decade, prepares for another wave of change.

With more people working from home, and many potentially to continue to do so in the future intermittently, more waste is finding itself in the municipal solid waste streams.

Many state governments, including Queensland, NSW and Victoria, are re-setting their long-term waste planning framework.

“Waste services have traditionally called for a set and forget approach. But now we’ve got changing expectations on what to put in each bin, multiple types of services, and changing operating conditions at facilities impacted by COVID-19,” Simon says.

He says that the traditional narrative in waste has been to focus on the average household, but this is a misguided approach, as every end user is different.

“If you think about the community and consumers, we have an expectation that we can do things in real time, and waste is gradually evolving into that dynamic,” Simon says.

Simon remains inspired by the possibilities that digitisation continues to create. Mandalay has been progressively expanding its product offering to track waste data from source to fate.

Real time issuing and redeeming of vouchers is supported by cloud-based data.

Taking existing commercial and industrial, and construction and demolition waste data, it is being integrated with municipal solid waste to create a holistic view of waste management within the regions.

“Our underlying belief is that if we can give insights to our councils of increasingly precise behaviour of their customers, then they can use that to develop new or existing services that drive long-lasting behavioural change,” Simon says.

“I was working with a regional facility that services many councils, and they have a few different profiles of customers they have to serve. They had come up with a very limiting program for that community, and so when you educate them about what’s possible, their whole world changes.”

Mandalay is seeing a surge in its existing waste voucher offering for residents and community groups, coupled with detailed waste mapping based on voucher use.

Waste vouchers have traditionally been printed on paper and mailed out to homeowners, or available on request. Often, this can cost thousands of dollars to ensure the vouchers are only used by the intended recipient and not copied or forged.

Mandalay has sought to resolve this, and a number of other issues, by digitising waste services. Simple concepts such as updating terms and conditions, getting a record of receipts read or accepted, or making program specific changes, can be communicated in real-time.

DIGITAL RELATIONSHIPS

Moreover, waste mapping is creating digital relationships with the people and properties within a community.

Since being released in 2018, its resident voucher program has supported local governments with digital vouchers – which has solved a variety of issues.

“One of the limitations of councils offering vouchers is, previously, they’ve been able to print them all out and send them to the residents when they send out the rates notice every year,” Simon says.

“But as rates notices are moving to electronic/online they couldn’t offer that service, or align that service offering.”

He says the challenge was then to offer an on-demand service, while also being able to ascertain the profile and behaviour of communities in a more targeted way.

These are the considerations Mandalay looked at when it began to digitise these services, aiming to offer councils better data and insights about their communities.

Mandalay’s voucher application can be distributed via rates notices or on-demand requests, while offering cancel, re-issue, and override options where a council decides an exception to the rules is needed.

This aims to resolve several challenges. The first is substantial overheads and the risk of managing multiple systems and data points across multiple locations.

Secondly, reducing the complexities of administering waste systems that extend across several teams, including Waste, IT, Finance, and Customer Service.

Thirdly, this increases the integrity of voucher programmes and reduces opportunities for fraud.

By delivering a faster and more personalised experience for councils, residents and the community, local governments can form stronger community ties while finding operational savings.

Like most digital products, integration is important, and Mandalay’s voucher management application natively links in with its CS Ticketing system. This enables rules set for the voucher program to be enforced at the facility gatehouse when the voucher is redeemed.

Additionally, real-time issuing and redeeming of vouchers is supported by cloud-based data.

Added to integration is the need for collaboration to avoid confusion, with the ability for use by multiple internal users across various teams, whether it be waste or customer service, to administer and manage entitlements.

User access can be managed via permissions and provide access to data while locking down functionality based on an organisation’s internal process requirements.

Multiple voucher programs can be created to suit each type of entitlement offered by councils.

Detailed waste mapping provides councils with unique data insights into their local government area and ultimately helps them service their communities better.

“You need to understand who your customer is before they come to the site and preferably what they’re there to do,” Simon says.

“Councils often think of their ratepayers as this is where their revenue base comes from, so they have an understanding and relationship with all of them. But in over 35 per cent of residents, the occupier and generator of the waste is not actually the ratepayer, it’s either the tenant or the property manager.”

Mandalay’s property database maintains a unique understanding of every property, allowing unique relationships to be built against that property.

Detailed property information is captured in the application, along with a history of voucher use, which provides an auditable system and a means of confidently challenging incidence of fraud.

Importantly, operators can understand where waste is being generated and which facility it is being presented at. The system adheres to international data security standards, including the General Data Protection Regulation – one of the world’s strongest set of data protection rules.

Simon says this allows bespoke services to be introduced at the click of a button.

“The classic one we’re seeing digitised fully is recycling drop-off facilities where operators can track the behaviour of that backfill property, link green waste drop-offs or introduce another more discreet waste related service.”

Additionally, by understanding the relationship between properties, councils can draw on information about the end user and even introduce targeted services. This spans anywhere from multi-unit dwelling pick-ups to targeted waste education campaigns.

“Councils are seeing this as a chance to actually bring essentially new revenue to their sites and we think that’s particularly exciting.”

Bundaberg Regional Council is one of several councils that will be using Mandalay’s waste vouchers, with vouchers currently sent out with rates notices.

Kerry Dalton, Coordinator Waste and Recycling Environmental Compliance at Bundaberg Regional Council, says that council is hoping to see multiple benefits to using the waste vouchers.

She says there are myriad potential benefits in moving to an electronic system, including allowing for council to electronically mail out vouchers to its E-rates customers.

Additionally, the ability to cancel and reissue vouchers if a resident has lost or not received the voucher is another benefit.

“This happens quite regularly, and we have had no way of tracking vouchers to know if they have already been redeemed,” she says.

The vouchers will offer the ability to track usage and start identifying areas with higher uptake and produce more accurate reports from the voucher module.

Kerry anticipates the end of day reconciliation process should be cleaner with the ability to scan the vouchers, with more of the benefits to be better understood by council’s next rates round in July/August.

Simon says that while many councils are understandably focused on present challenges, the future of waste behavioural insights is abound with opportunity.

“There’s a whole raft of data and insights that we’ll be able to generate in the future, as well as being able to benchmark the performance of organisations and all manner of things.”

For more information on Mandalay’s vouchers click here.

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Clean loop recycling: TOMRA

Container deposit schemes are the first step in changing the way people think about the circular economy and the importance of reusing precious resources, TOMRA’s Ryan Buzzell explains. 

Collaborative success stories are abound throughout the waste industry, with initiatives such as the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation and Food Innovation Australia Limited highlighting the central role industry plays in developing Australia’s legislative resource recovery framework.

In recent years, the industry/government alliance model has been applied to the nationwide establishment of container deposit schemes (CDS), to great success.

Ryan Buzzell, TOMRA Collection Solutions Australia President, highlights CDS’ as a standout example of government and industry working together to protect natural resources for societal reuse.

“We’re about to learn a lot about the impacts of plastics in our oceans, including their impact on our society and human health. I believe that sustainability, and particularly the circular economy concept, will become an urgent priority in the next few years,” Ryan says.

“To address that, we need to ensure those concepts remain at the forefront of business innovation and government policy decisions. I think those two entities working together can really make significant positive change.”

With the majority of his working life spent at TOMRA, Ryan’s commitment to fostering the circular economy is a lifelong passion.

“I remember learning about greenhouse gases and their impact on the climate in primary school and thinking I wanted to be part of the solution,” he says.

Beginning his relationship with TOMRA in 2005, Ryan started working at the company in an entry level position with the collection solutions division.

“When I came across TOMRA in 2005, it was clear to me that this was an organisation that aligned with my personal values. And 15 years later, that’s still something that holds true.

“Since then I’ve held progressive positions within the organisation. More recently in 2015, I was General Manager of our business in New York City. And then in 2017, I came to Australia to head up our business here, with the onset of the CDS in NSW.”

BILLIONS OF BOTTLES 

In his Cleaning Up Our Act: Redirecting the Future of Plastic in NSW Minister’s Message, Environment Minister Matt Kean highlights plastic as synonymous with the global consumer economy – underpinning “our use and dispose mentality”.

Ryan shares similar sentiments, calling Australia’s cultural attachment to single-use items a major problem that requires innovative solutions and behavioural change.

“The past 40 years have seen our unsustainable linear economic model – take, make, dispose – accelerate at a significant rate, with approximately one million plastic bottles now bought every minute globally. We need to work at addressing that issue and promoting awareness about the value of the circular economy model.”

Mirroring sentiments expressed by TOMRA CEO Stefan Ranstrand at the 2019 World Circular Economy Forum in Helsinki, Finland, Ryan says with an estimated 95 per cent of plastic packaging material value lost to the economy, the international community needs to work to unlock that economic potential.

He highlights that in doing so, the global economy could unleash up to $85 billion annually.

Furthermore, Ryan says the environmental effects of plastic waste are set to increase without action, with estimates suggesting plastic production will rise by 40 per cent over the next 10 years.

Despite the scale of the problem, Ryan remains optimistic, noting the success of NSW’s CDS Return and Earn.

“The CDS, which has demonstrated positive effects on recovery rates, will be instrumental in improving our future environmental outcomes and addressing the waste crisis,” he says.

“CDS’ offer an opportunity to show people how the circular economy can work and encourages them to look at other areas of their consumption, thereby breaking down barriers and changing people’s mindsets and behaviours.”

In July 2017, TOMRA, in a joint venture with Cleanaway, was appointed Return and Earn network operator by the NSW Government. As part of the network operator JV, TOMRA provides technology and software, including reverse vending machines.

Cleanaway provides logistics, material sorting and recyclable commodities brokerage. Administered by scheme coordinator Exchange for Change and regulated by the NSW EPA, Return and Earn represents a well-oiled example of industry/government collaboration.   

Since it was introduced, the scheme has seen more than 3.4 billion containers returned and recycled, with NSW Parliamentary Environment Secretary James Griffin remarking on Return and Earn’s then 67 per cent redemption rate for eligible drink containers at the time of the scheme’s second anniversary in December last year.

Ryan estimates that more than one billion containers would have found their way to landfill or litter over the last two years. While the success of Return and Earn is likely well known to most in the waste and resource recovery sector, Ryan says its impact can be measured beyond bottles collected and litter reduction rates.

He adds that the scheme has fundamentally changed the way NSW residents think about waste and litter, thereby illustrating a public willingness to engage in the circular economy.

“More and more, Australians are understanding that waste is a resource and actually something that holds value. But society still needs a push or a reminder to turn that into a habit,” Ryan says.

CDS’ work by adding a small extra deposit on top of the price of a beverage – such as those in plastic and glass bottles and aluminium cans – which is refunded to the consumer when they return the empty drink container for recycling.

“This is typically established through legislation passed by state or national governments. When the consumer purchases the beverage, they pay the additional deposit on the container. Once they have finished with their beverage, the consumer returns the container to receive their deposit back,” Ryan says.

“That’s where CDS models work so well: by attaching an incentive to those products to remind people that these are valuable resources. CDS functions as a very tangible example of the circular economy in action.”

CLEAN LOOP RECYCLING

While the plastic waste crisis is affecting the entire globalised world, Ryan says the combination of collaborative action and innovative technology offers a real solution. He adds that significant economic, social and environmental opportunities can be found in TOMRA’s clean loop recycling ethos.

Despite most being aware of the closed loop recycling process, TOMRA is championing an updated model, with clean loop recycling at the forefront of the company’s business framework.

“What we mean by clean loop recycling is using technology at the point of return for bottles and cans to essentially recognise the container and sort it on the front end,” Ryan says.

“This keeps contamination in the material streams to an absolute minimum, which ensures those clean streams of material can be turned back into new bottles rather than being downcycled.”

According to Ryan, over 50 per cent of the containers collected through Return and Earn are recycled into new bottles and cans, highlighting the scheme’s prioritisation of high order recycling.

“Rather than downcycling the material we collect, Return and Earn works to lessen the need for virgin material production by turning old bottles and cans into new bottles and cans – thereby extending the lifecycle of the original material,” he says.

Containers collected in the greater Sydney region are returned to a Sydney recycling facility for processing and on-sale to other businesses to be re-used. Ryan adds that containers collected in regional areas are processed at regional recycling facilities, reducing the need to transport materials across the state.

Plastic is undoubtably the workhorse material of the modern economy, Ryan adds. Addressing the plastic waste problem therefore requires more than just telling consumers to buy less.

“To achieve the ambitious goals of a circular economy, it’s necessary to employ state-of-the-art approaches that push boundaries, with TOMRA’s reverse vending and waste sorting solutions helping to achieve this by recovering materials and providing valuable insight into the composition of these materials,” he says.

“The result is a greater understanding of where efficiencies can be made to minimise costs and waste, and better utilise resources within a closed loop – further mitigating the impact of CO2 and other emissions and inefficiencies.”

According to Return and Earn’s consumer research, conducted in December 2019, eight out of 10 Return and Earn participants are satisfied with the scheme. While over three-quarters of NSW residents believe it will reduce the amount of litter in the state.

Ryan adds that TOMRA’s research shows more than half of NSW residents are using the scheme, which in turn demonstrates how easy access to drop-off points and a well-planned network of collections and recovery infrastructure is critical to building Australia’s circular economy.

Recent research also shows that for young people 18 and 24, the environment is now their number one concern above health and the economy. This, Ryan suggests, demonstrates the circular economy concept taking root.

“I expect we will see more of these thoughtful consumers emerging in the future, with CDS enabling the consideration of not just what you’re buying and using, but also where those products are going to end up,” he says.

“CDS’ are a great example of delivering on the triple bottom line of sustainability: less litter in the environment, refunds used to benefit charities and local community groups, and lastly, recycled containers becoming a part of the circular economy through extended product life.”

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