Government has launched South Africa’s first ever research chairs on waste management, aimed at transforming the sector while contributing to the country’s socio-economic development.

The new chairs under the South African Research Chairs Initiative (SARChI) – the South African Research Chair in Waste and Climate, and in Waste and Society – were launched in Pretoria today.

The Research Chair in Waste and Climate was awarded to Prof. Cristina Trois from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, and the Research Chair in Waste and Society to Prof. Catherina Schenck from the University of the Western Cape.

Waste RDI roadmap

The special focus on waste and climate and waste and society are two key elements of South Africa’s Waste Research, Development and Innovation (RDI) Roadmap. The roadmap was implemented by national government to support more effective decision-making, faster insertion of context-appropriate technology, and strengthened capability and capacity.

According to Prof. Linda Godfrey, Manager of the Waste RDI Roadmap Implementation Unit at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), the waste sector is in desperate need of change.

“If mismanaged, waste directly impacts the health of communities, yet it also provides opportunities for improved livelihoods and reducing poverty – simply by changing the way we think about waste as a resource,” said Prof. Godfrey.

She said this change required a deep understanding of waste behaviour and appropriate behaviour change interventions; appropriate business models to support small business development; and opportunities to create jobs and improve livelihoods in South Africa’s formal and informal sectors.

Women rewriting waste history

Prof. Godfrey also welcomed the appointment of women to lead the research chairs. “It is also opportune that these two new chairs are being launched in August, Women’s Month – a celebration of women who have been instrumental in rewriting South Africa’s story. And now we have the opportunity to do the same in the waste sector, with the new chairs having been awarded to two extremely capable and well respected women in the sector.”

The SARChI initiative is led by the National Research Foundation to attract and retain research excellence and innovation at universities, science councils and national research facilities. It aims to improve South Africa’s international research and innovation competitiveness in a way that responds to the country’s social and economic challenges.