An innovative new partnership between City of Glasgow College and data firm Eyecademy is attempting to cut the seismic amounts of waste produced by construction firms

PUBLIC awareness of environmental issues such as plastics pollution is arguably at an all-time high given the almost daily news concentration surrounding the subject. 

What is less well known, however, is that construction activities, including excavation and mining, are responsible for up to 60% of waste materials in the UK. 

In Scotland the construction sector is responsible for producing nearly half of the country’s waste. Recent figures indicate the industry produces a staggering 5.8m tonnes each year. After removing 75% which constitutes inert wastes, including demolition and soil for example, this leaves a balance of 1.45m tonnes.

There is a rising demand within the construction industry for more effective ways to accurately predict the volume of waste likely to be created by new construction projects. Current practices rely on estimates produced at the tender stage which can often lead to significant overspend and unpredictable waste generation.

As a result, City of Glasgow College is now working with Glasgow-based data company, Eyecademy, to revolutionise the way in which construction companies predict, manage and dispose of waste materials. 

Through the use of innovative cloud-based software, they are creating the UK’s first fully online waste management solution with an ambition to reduce the generation of waste, improve business productivity and lessen the impact of construction activities on the environment.

“What we are developing with Eyecademy is effectively a digital service that construction companies can use to help them have a better understanding of how much waste they are likely to generate based on the activity they are engaged in. If they are working on a project that utilises hundreds and thousands of bricks they can accurately predict how many will be surplus. Likewise, with concreting,” said Douglas Morrison, Associate Director of Innovation and STEM at City of Glasgow College, pictured below.

HeraldScotland:

A recent report outlined that improving the use of even the most basic digital technology could realise significant gains in productivity across the industry.

There is growing use of Building Information Material (BIM) which creates digital versions of buildings and infrastructure projects that can be used by architects, designers and clients to track and monitor buildings throughout their entire life span - meaning that it is no longer necessary to refer back to old construction drawings and paper based specifications.

“It is a big challenge and opportunity to find out how we can use data to make gains in productivity, reduce the impact on the environment and improve the working practices in the construction industry,” pointed out Douglas. 

Early trials of the software have already confirmed that a number of construction companies have grossly underestimated the waste generated on individual projects.

In larger projects the resultant cost can often run into hundreds of thousands of pounds. The project with Eyecademy looks specifically at how data can be used to make better predictions in relation to how much surplus material that any one project is likely to generate. 

“Any marginal gains in our understanding can therefore have a fairly significant impact,” said Morrison. “Currently the system is structured in such a way that companies will tender for a project and their price will include an estimate of the cost of disposing construction and demolition debris. 

“Invariably the volume of waste is underestimated to keep tender bids competitive,” said Morrison. 

“Unfortunately, companies may then face high waste bills that could threaten profit margins. 

“More worryingly, the overall quality of materials and labour could also be affected when the focus is on keeping costs low. This programme offers construction companies the ability to make accurate forecasts to enable them to engage with waste management providers to reduce the amount, reduce landfill or repurpose unused materials on another project.”

The service is scheduled to launch later this year with a number of construction companies already signed up.

---------------------------------------------

Collaboration keeps staff skills relevant

Not only will the new software reduce waste, but such real-world  endeavours also bring industry expertise directly to students

IT’S OBVIOUS that the new waste management solution can benefit companies working in the construction sector but how does City of Glasgow College gain from its input?

Its collaboration with Glasgow-based data company Eyecademy on the problem of construction waste is part of its policy to work with industry partners on early stage projects.

HeraldScotland:

The City of Glasgow College and Eyecademy waste management programme is currently going through initial testing and is expected to launch in autumn 2019

This benefits the college in a number of ways, according to Douglas Morrison, Associate Director of Innovation and STEM at City of Glasgow College.

“By collaborating closely with industry, it brings expertise directly to the curriculum and our students, in an effective and powerful way and ensures our staff skills are kept up to date,” he said. 

“We are working in an increasingly complex and ever-changing labour market and what we want to ensure is that staff are across new practices. The skills, knowledge and expertise they acquire ensures our students have a valuable, industry-relevant learning experience.

“Because the world is moving so quickly there is value in collaborating with industry partners in these early stage projects and learning from each other.” 

With regards to the collaboration with Eyecademy, it is currently going through initial testing with the launch expected in autumn this year.

As well as benefiting construction companies, Morrison said the software would be valuable for clients.

“We are offering construction companies the ability to predict accurately the waste that is generated and clients are assured that waste targets being presented to them are realistic,” he said.

This will become increasingly important as it is predicted that additional penalties will be brought in by the government on projects that generate an abundance of waste. 

Generating less waste will also help the social and environmental profiles of both clients and the companies that win the tenders.

“At the moment there is a real problem within the industry as companies are engaged in what effectively is a race to the bottom,” said Morrison. “We are seeing them deliver huge scale projects with tiny profit margins which is leading to difficulties in finding financial resources to invest in research and development in the industry as a whole.

“Using this new software to accurately predict the amount of waste generated will not only have a positive impact on the environment but unlock a resource that can be used to reinvest and rejuvenate companies.”

The new online programme will be a cloud-based subscription service which will help each employer gain a better understanding of their own practices and the construction waste they generate.