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Remote Sensing pilots to detect illegal waste, Scotland


7 December 2018

The LIFE SMART Waste project is currently undertaking two concurrent pilots in Scotland to develop and evaluate the application of select Remote Sensing techniques to help tackle waste crime.

As outlined in the project's initial research¹, Remote Sensing techniques can potentially play a significant role in supporting the work of regulatory agencies in identifying waste management licence breaches, as well as more serious waste crime.

To explore the potential, the LIFE SMART Waste pilot studies facilitated by SEPA are focusing on two possible roles for the application of earth observation techniques:

  1. Detection of unknown waste sites; 
  2. Detection of waste materials.

Pilot 1 - Detection of unknown waste sites

LIFE SMART Waste have commissioned Gavia Environmental Ltd to develop and pilot a suitable Remote Sensing technique for detecting unknown (illegal) waste sites.

The aim of the pilot is to develop an innovative system that incorporates Remote Sensing imagery and image analysis techniques within a geo-information environment to tackle the problem of detecting unknown illegal waste sites.

To date, using an iterative approach, an expert-driven probability modelling method has been developed to produce a heatmap of the probability of illegal waste presence across Scotland. Expert elicitation has been used to gather reliable information about the spatial variability of waste crime from SEPA’s existing research, evidence gathering and illegal waste disposal prosecutions. This method is intended to capture the expert knowledge held within SEPA, providing a sound basis for developing and validating a predictive model for detecting unknown (illegal) waste sites as the pilot progresses.

In parallel, the effectiveness of a range of remote sensing inputs - including medium spatial resolution satellite imagery - are being assessed to determine the optimum level of input to integrate with the probability model. This assessment will help to ensure that the techniques developed are both effective and affordable for environmental regulators to use.

Pilot 2 - Detection of waste materials

LIFE SMART Waste have commissioned Pixalytics Ltd to develop a suitable Remote Sensing system for detecting waste materials - including waste tyre piles and other challenging waste types - within complex environments.

Waste materials in urban and semi-rural environments are often hidden from view, stored next to other materials, buildings or amongst vegetation. They may also be difficult, and sometimes hazardous, to detect and quantify on foot by field officers. Determination by Remote Sensing techniques could, therefore, provide environmental regulators with a tool to investigate potentially illegally stored waste materials, and allow larger areas of a country to be inspected objectively (compared to officer inspections).

Cost-effectiveness is again a key consideration and the pilot is trying - as far as possible - to use free, existing and low-cost data and software tools to their full potential to produce useable results. The pilot also aims to integrate the proposed detection system with SEPA’s current data management and visualisation systems.

The intention is that the resulting detection system will also be transferable and applicable to various environments, other geographical areas and suitable for use by other agencies.


¹  Remote Sensing – Phase 1 (Research) final report / Non-technical summary


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