Changing the approach to waste in construction

26 May 2020
The construction industry needs to stop treating waste as a problem and instead needs to focus on the opportunities for change

This article is extracted from the report 'Removing Waste from UAE Construction'

As one of the biggest generators of waste, the efficiency of the construction sector impacts both the industry as well as the country’s reputation. Moreover, it results in loss time, capital and critical resources which could be injected into other ventures. 

“The key challenge of an economically developing country is to decouple economic and population growth with waste generation,” says Ali al-Jassim, chairman of Emirates Green Building Council. “Not to forget that any fast-developing country like the UAE would naturally have considerable construction waste.” 

Andrew Mackenzie, partner and head of international arbitration at law firm Baker McKenzie Habib al-Mulla says that the reason construction is contentious, especially with megaprojects, is the wide number of parties operating at any given time. 

“Take for instance, the Midfield Terminal project in Abu Dhabi,” he says. “Hundreds of packages were contracted separately. There is usually a party responsible for managing all the other players on such projects. But if any one party is facing cashflow issues, it will have a domino effect across the chain regardless.” 

Saeed al-Abbar, managing director at AESG, notes that the challenge of fragmentation is one that faces not just UAE construction but the global construction industry. 

“There is a fragmentation between development teams and the operations or real estate teams,” he says. “However, developers that have integrated models where they retain their assets and manage them are waking up to this and are making sure there is proper handover from construction through to operation.” 

Facing the challenge 

“In the next 10 years, the big players in the construction sector will not be the same ones that exist today,” says Al-Abbar. “You’re already seeing that, with some of the big construction PLCs going into liquidation. The root cause of that is inefficiency in delivery. Unfortunately, it will continue to happen. We will continue to lose construction behemoths that do not adapt.” 

The challenge of fragmentation is one that faces not just UAE construction but the global construction industry.

Construction industry players are gradually coming to recognise the need to think about the entire lifecycle of an asset and not just an isolated phase. 

“To get the best value in terms of cost and environmental sustainability, you need to look at the whole lifecycle,” says Ghassan Ziadat, vice president – major projects at McKinsey & Company. “There is no point skimping on the capital expenditure, because then will be problems further down the line when you are in the construction stage, or in the operations and maintenance stage. You need to strike the right balance.” 

If the construction industry is to tackle waste effectively, it needs to look at the entire building cycle rather than isolated elements of the project. This is where BIM can come in handy, streamlining the lifecycle. 

“By using BIM 3 or BIM 4, you can have accurate measurement of the quantity on a project or building directly from the 3D model,” says Ziadat. “And with BIM 5 or BIM 6, you can assign cost and project lifecycle information. By having better estimates, you can reduce the wastage in terms of the material that you ordered, design clashes, reworks and so forth.” 

Public projects can be benchmarked and model waste management plans can be implemented to drive change across the industry. Moreover, government clients can require its project parties to limit the amount of waste generated through their activities. 

The Last Planner System, introduced by the Lean Construction Institute, is a collaborative process that helps managers with production control on complex projects with a lot of task dependencies and strict deadlines. It improves communication, helps in identifying and overcoming bottlenecks, allows everyone on board to be on top of details, and introduces commitment-based planning. 

In the design phase, last planners are typically architectural and engineering project managers. And in the construction phase, last planners are usually foremen and superintendents for the trade contractor crews. 

Is it too late? 

“It doesn’t matter what stage the building, construction or facility is,” says Al-Jassim, stating that it is never too late to start thinking about limiting waste on the asset. 

“However, the amount of waste generated from each stage is different. Each stage should have its own independent process and regulation for recycling and reusing process. It is not as simple as putting one common regulation for all facilities.” 

If the construction industry is to tackle waste effectively, it needs to look at the entire building cycle rather than isolated elements of the project. This is where BIM can come in handy, streamlining the lifecycle. 

Al-Jassim adds that the best method of reducing waste is to not produce any waste in the first place. 

“Given that the UAE aims to become one of the most sustainable countries in the world, we should be looking to move away from the linear model to a circular model,” he says. “Materials, products and components are held in repetitive loops, maintaining them at their highest possible intrinsic value.” 

However, to reach a circular and zero waste economy, coordinated efforts is required from all stakeholders within the industry. 

“The major responsibility of everyone within the industry should be to raise awareness and educate all their business supply chains, contractors, sub-contractors, consultants, suppliers, developers and people within their circles in the society,” says Al-Jassim. “The overall level of ambition can be raised when everyone is committed to responsibly sourcing materials and managing waste.” 

By making most of opportunities to reduce waste, contractors can also differentiate themselves from competition and increase their chances to win tender bids. 

“There will be a radical change, rather than just traditional parties slowly resolving the issue,” says Al-Abbar. “It will be almost a shock therapy in the next 10 years. I don’t think we’ll be doing things the same way in the next 10 years – at least I hope we’re not. Otherwise we’re in big trouble.” 

This report is produced under the MEED Mashreq Construction Partnership.To learn more about the report or the partnership, log on to:

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