New Technology Solution to Transform Recycling and Sustainable Waste Management with Machine Intelligence

March 28, 2024

Dr. Khalid Askar’s Research Not Only Tackles Plastic Pollution but Aligns with the UAE’s Plans to Divert 75% of Waste from Landfill  


A new technological solution to sort waste based on the actual properties of post-consumer materials, rather than relying solely on visual differences with the help of machine intelligence, is being developed by a team of researchers led by Dr. Khalid Askar, Assistant Professor, Mechanical Engineering, Khalifa University, in collaboration with Cycled Technologies Middle East, a recycling technology company in the region.


As a novel step towards combating plastic pollution and promoting sustainability, the research project aims to transform the circular waste management model – addressing one of the world’s most pressing challenges – plastic pollution, an environmental concern which was of immense significance at the COP28 UAE climate summit.


Dr. Askar said: “By turning the concept of waste into the concept of value creation, the project also fosters a community-wide inclination towards recycling; significantly reducing the cost and environmental impact associated with implementing circular waste management practices. This project aligns perfectly with the UAE’s ambitious plans of diverting 75% of waste away from landfills, acting as a crucial enabler for this environmental goal. Another key highlight of the research project is to increase real-time traceability of post-consumer materials, paving the way for a fully digitalized and smarter waste management industry.”


Working with Ayoola Brimmo, Co-Founder and COO, Cycled Technologies, and Chia-Yun Lai, Research Assistant, Materials Science and Engineering, Dr. Askar seeks to extend the capability of existing waste sorting technology in the plastic recycling industry. By leveraging the power of Convolutional Neural Network (CNN)-based machine learning AI algorithms, this new technology processes characterization data to define and detect surface contamination thresholds on plastic items.  


Ayoola Brimmo said: “With a vision to create a smarter and more environmentally responsible waste management industry, Cycled Technologies is delighted to partner with Khalifa University to transform the way we approach recycling and contribute to a more sustainable future. This research collaboration fosters a culture of innovation and technological advancement, and showcases our commitment to driving sustainable solutions and economic growth. More importantly, it addresses plastic pollution and promotes sustainable waste management practices, marking a crucial step forward in the region’s environmental and economic landscape.”


The project includes a prototype housed at the Masdar Institute Field Station, a Khalifa University research facility. This prototype utilizes a vent for intake of waste, which is then transported via a conveyor belt for compression, after which intelligent systems integrated into the prototype capture detailed images of the plastic properties. This enables the AI system to learn and identify the type of plastic present in the waste material. 


The prototype’s advanced sorting and classification process also has the potential to provide invaluable information for industries engaged in plastic recycling and reuse and as the AI system continues to train itself, the research can also enable identification of other materials beyond plastics. Additionally, portability may not be a challenge, as Dr. Askar’s team anticipates that the large size of the sorting technology will facilitate the collection of substantial quantities of plastic waste.


The implications of this research project extend far beyond waste management as it aligns with the Abu Dhabi 2030 strategy on economic diversification, bridging the gap between academia and industry, positioning the UAE as a high-tech hub for innovators. 


Alisha Roy
Science Writer
28 March 2024