We’re really talking rubbish now. Wild interviews Elliott Lancaster, founder of ‘Utter Rubbish’, who tells us of his innovative app that is cleaning up our streets and contributing to a better environment for everyone.
Firstly, could you briefly describe the work of Utter Rubbish, how the app works, and how the project got started?
“Utter Rubbish is providing substantial environmental support through tackling fly-tipping to provide better environmental performance and reporting ability for councils. This is actively contributing to the UK’s performance as a forward-thinking leader in adopting better environmental reporting standards.
The app includes collection reminders and calendars to enables residents to stay informed about their collection services. The diverse range of refuse and recycling collection systems in use across the UK also cause confusion for some residents, and Utter Rubbish helps combat this by providing a one-stop portal for accessing information from local authorities. Many local authority websites are considered difficult to navigate by users too, therefore Utter Rubbish overcomes this issue, making information accessible and easy to understand. The app also empowers residents to report fly-tipping with a geo-tagged image reporting mechanism, whereby you can simply take a photo of fly-tipped rubbish and send it to the local authority to clean up in a couple of clicks. Utter Rubbish Ltd also supports local businesses who can advertise through the append enable private contracting firms, such as skip-hire firms are held accountable and are reviewed based on the quality and cost of the service they provide.
Social impacts have entailed improving communication, through increasing engagement with outreach events. We will include more school residential workshops which hundreds of secondary school pupils attended. The outreach workshops utilise the app to explore fly-tipping, developing the recycling literacy of participants. Additional benefits include the app tools generating less CO2 than current fly-tipping reporting practices. Helping reduce carbon emissions has arguable positive impacts for wider society.”
Personally, how did you become interested in sustainability, and waste management in particular?
“I was completing a shadowing for the Leader of Local Council at the time and noticed how big a problem fly-tipping was and decided to look into the national statistics. I was appalled! The communication of changing collection information had led to a situation that confused residents… leading to a greater occurrence of fly-tipping. This is when I came up with the Utter Rubbish app, where all residents could find all about their waste in one place. I decided to speak to my Entrepreneurship Lecturer, mentor and friend Sharon George who I discussed the idea with thoroughly. It was during this initial discussion that the phone rang… It was the National Youth Agency advertising the Environment Now Scheme, a joint funding and mentoring programme with O2 and the National Lottery Our Bright Future. I decided to apply, and the rest is history.”
One aspect of the app is reporting fly-tipping. What are some the consequences of fly-tipping, both economically, and for the environment?
“There is a growing need to implement this support; fly-tipped waste is having a devastating impact on the environment and causing a catastrophic effect on wildlife. Recent data showed that there were over 8,374 incidents of fly-tipping occurring in Stoke-on-Trent alone from 2016 to 2017. This shows a yearly increase of 1,760 cases with an additional cost of £166,000. With only 29 court fines this year (amounting to a mere £8,993) it is important to deal with the £575,857 problem, which is harming local communities and putting council budgets under pressure. The Utter Rubbish platform effectively analyses data to combat the investigations made. The financial savings for local authorities could then be reinvested into other community projects. Tackling fly-tipping will also ensure a clean environment for ecological habitats and community activities. The identified need for improved communication about waste collections between local authorities and residents is clear. The hybrid app and website provide an accessible platform that solves this problem and provides an opportunity for any community group to promote campaigns.”
Do you think recycling and living a greener lifestyle is becoming easier, or more difficult for the general public?
“I think that in recent years there has been exponential growth in developing greener products, as shown by alternatives to plastics and advances in recycling systems. As these processes become more mainstream and adopted by citizens, I believe that this will become substantially easier to live a green lifestyle. This being said, there is mass confusion over what can and cannot be recycled for this reason of constantly changing practices. It is also unclear on how sustainable some of these alternate products are as well. Using bamboo as an example, there has been many cases where fearless farming has taken place and caused deforestation in certain areas.”
What has been the response to Utter Rubbish so far?
“The response to Utter Rubbish so far has been incredible. It has been featured in a number of articles and case studies including the UN Prime Report, Sustainability Times and Stoke Sentinel just to name a few. The project has also gained international recognition. Through winning the Enterprise Category at the Green Gown Awards and receiving a Highly Commended from Staffordshire Chamber of Commerce Awards. I have also presented at a number of conferences about the importance of recycling and student enterprise at global conferences and events such as a Parliamentary Reception and Reimagine Education in San Francisco. This being said the most notable acknowledgement received for this was being invited to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding last year. It truly was a once in a lifetime experience; I feel greatly honoured to have been asked to such a special occasion.”
Have you faced any challenges in setting up the project so far?
“Setting up a social enterprise during my degree was such a great challenge when balancing it alongside the demands from my course, however it was such an incredible and rewarding experience. The main challenge has been working with local authorities, whereby their different dynamics have meant that things have taken a lot longer than previously expected to collect useful information and test the app with pilot data.”
What are your plans for the future of Utter Rubbish?
“I am looking to continue to grow Utter Rubbish into a national platform to have the greatest social, environmental impact. If this is to create a long-lasting impression on the associated behaviours of recycling and fly-tipping it needs to be available to everyone.”
About the Author: Elliott Lancaster, is founder and managing director of Utter Rubbish Ltd.
Elliott was interviewed by Roisin Conneely, our Environment & Wildlife Editor, who is currently studying for an MRes in Biodiversity Evolution and Conservation at UCL. Give her a follow on twitter.