UK and Saudi researchers look to AI to tackle construction waste

Image credit: Dmitry Kalinovsky/Shutterstock

Academics from the UK and Saudi Arabia are teaming up to investigate how artificial intelligence (AI) can be used to make the construction industry greener.

Dr Pablo Martinez Rodriguez, from Northumbria University’s Department of Architecture & Built Environment, and co-investigator Dr Osama Mohsen from King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals (KFUPM), have received funding from the British Council’s UK Saudi Challenge Fund to undertake a year-long research project.

They have been selected because of their expertise and history of research in this field. In particular, their work will look at reducing waste from construction sites in the UK and Saudi Arabia as part of a major drive toward greater sustainability.

Rodriguez said: “Most construction sites analyse waste through modelling techniques, rather than measuring what is actually being thrown away. We need a flexible way of processing the data more quickly than we currently have, and by using AI we can install visual sensor systems that monitor skips at construction sites and derive accurately how much waste is actually being produced.

“This would give a value to the waste that is being generated at construction sites and help us better understand the capabilities of circular economy so that the building industry can become more sustainable.”

The UK construction industry uses up to 40% of the UK’s raw resources every year, 20% of which ends up in landfills. Current UK efforts have managed to divert about 13% of it from landfills, looking for alternative ways of disposal or finding novel uses to certain materials, however that is far from the 99% goal set up for the near future.

Waste reduction in the construction industry is considered key for any country aiming to achieve the UN sustainability goals marked for 2030.

Saudi Arabia faces similar challenges. But as a rapidly developing economy, it faces additional difficulties in ensuring growth is managed sustainably.

According to Saudi Arabia’s National Centre for Waste Management, the environmental degradation caused by solid waste in 2021 had an estimated cost of $1.3bn. Annual waste generated by the construction industry in Saudi Arabia amounts to approximately 130m tonnes, of which less than 1% is recycled. The rest mostly ends up in landfills – and demand for landfill space is increasing rapidly.

Rodriguez and Mohsen will aim to develop AI models that can identify and quantify waste from a range of building materials, such as wood or plastics, that may end up in landfill sites but that could be recycled. The joint research will also help create a comparative analysis between waste management and sustainability practices in the UK and Saudi Arabia.

While the UK is considered to be “slightly more advanced” than Saudi Arabia in terms of sustainability, there is currently still no accurate waste measurement system in either country.

Rodriguez added: “Our research will therefore have an impact in both the UK and Saudi Arabia and help inform policy and develop best-practice guidelines for the industry.”

Image credit: Dmitry Kalinovsky/Shutterstock


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