ESA title


  • ACTIVITYFeasibility Study
  • STATUSOngoing
  • THEMATIC AREAInfrastructure & Smart Cities, Transport & Logistics, Environment, Wildlife and Natural Resources

Objectives of the service

The global waste market is valued in the billions of dollars per year and an illegal sector has consequently flourished. Criminals in the EU (and other countries worldwide) have been undercutting their economies by exploiting the high costs of legal waste management and disposal, and making substantial profits from offering cheaper unlawful landfills. Criminals entering the waste industry are undercutting legally functioning landfill operators by evading tax and other costs associated with disposing waste.

The service will utilise Earth Observation data (SAR and Optical) to identify illegal waste sites and monitor legal sites. GNSS technology will be used to track the destination of high value waste and help identify the vehicles that transport it. This will potentially provide legitimate waste companies with proof of compliance of their operational activities, and agencies and governments with evidence of illegal activity that can be used in a court of law.

Users and their needs

The primary target users of the proposed service are Environment Agencies & Regulators, Governments, large scale Waste Companies, and Compliance Schemes. Engagement has been primarily with countries within the EU, however interest has been gathered from a number of others worldwide. 

Needs vary by type of customer, however some identified include: 

  • Monitoring legal known landfills to ensure they don’t exceed dedicated boundaries
  • Identifying illegal landfill sites
  • Tracking waste disposal from source to destination
  • Providing information/data on waste crime that is admissible  as evidence for use in a court of law 

Through workshops and interviews a number of agencies have shown a strong interest in the proposed service and involvement in proof of concept activities.

Users have been engaged in a number of countries worldwide. United Kingdom, Romania, Holland have shown a strong interest.

Service/ system concept

The service is made up of two separate streams; monitoring and tracking: 

  • Earth Observation data is used to monitor legal waste sites and detect illegal waste sites providing a series of reports and/or alerts to the customer, with evidence of the location and extent of the waste site identified. 
  • Devices utilising GNSS technology are placed within consignments of waste to track the lifecycle from collection to disposal. 

Space Added Value

The service utilises the following space based assets; 

Earth Observation data for monitoring:

  • Change detection routines are applied using multitemporal SAR data to identify potential sites where illegal waste tipping is occurring.
  • Optical data is used to both identify illegal waste sites and to validate the sites identified in the SAR data. 

GNSS for Tracking:

  • Tracking devices using the location information from GNSS satellites inform when a waste consignment may be routed from its intended destination to an illegal dumping site
  • By combining this information with vehicle tracking, a full picture of unexpected behaviour in the lifecycle of waste disposal is provided

Current Status

A user workshop was held in Brussels to gather user requirements and validate assumptions about the proposed service. It attracted over 40 delegates from Environmental Agencies, Government and Industry who showed a strong interest in the service. Interviews were held with a variety of stakeholders within the Waste Management sector, focussing efforts on those with most interest in uptake of the service and the ability to pay.

Proof of concept activities were conducted including the testing of SAR data for waste monitoring and detection of illegal landfills, and a service concept scenario for waste tracking. It was proved that very high resolution SAR data was suitable as a tool for helping to identify illegal landfills. Based on the viability analysis the Waste Monitoring service will be further developed through an ESA Demonstration project proposal.

The user support and involvement combined with the business model make such a service a viable prospect.

Prime Contractor(s)

Status Date

Updated: 23 July 2018