Transforming the waste sector by investing in the next generation | Infrastructure news

The annual report of the Waste Research, Development, and Innovation (RDI) Roadmap has highlighted the importance of evidence and skills in shaping the future of South Africa’s waste sector. The report launched recently also highlighted the impact of waste on climate change.

The roadmap is an initiative of the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) and is implemented by the Department’s entity, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).

The roadmap also serves as a guide to South Africa’s public and private sector investment in waste RDI for the period 2015 – 2025. In addition, the roadmap has the potential to generate jobs in waste prevention, reuse, recycling and recovery.

The South African waste sector, like that of most developing countries, faces very real challenges around city cleansing, waste collection and safe disposal. Landfilling of waste, in many instances, to uncontrolled or controlled dumpsites with associated open burning, remains the dominant technology solution for managing waste in South Africa.

While many cities and towns experience littering and the illegal dumping of waste, Prof. Linda Godfrey, Manager of the Waste Research, Development and Innovation (RD&I) Roadmap Implementation Unit at the CSIR, said South Africa must invest in skilling young people to help address these challenges.

Prof. Godfrey was speaking at the launch of the Waste RD&I Roadmap Annual Report 2021/22 on Thursday, 27 October 2022. The report outlines the achievements of the programme during the past year.

The Department recognised the opportunity to support the transformation of the South African waste economy by investing in human capital development and RD&I. “Skills development is a cornerstone of the Waste RD&I Roadmap,” said Dr Henry Roman, Director: Environmental Services and Technologies and custodian of the Waste RD&I Roadmap.

The report showed that in the last year, a total of 60 students were supported on research projects and eight postgraduate students were supported through direct scholarships. In addition, 49 postgraduate students were mentored under the two Waste RD&I Roadmap and National Research Foundation South African Research Chairs Initiative hosted by the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) and the University of the Western Cape, while 18 postgraduate students were mentored under the UKZN and North-West University coursework degrees, seed funded by the DSI. Since 2015, a total of 41 students have successfully graduated from the various waste programmes supported by the Waste RD&I Roadmap.

“While the South African waste sector has been slow to adopt alternative waste treatment technologies, it is hoped that these young, enthusiastic graduates will venture out into the waste sector, whether it be working for private industry or government, and help transform the sector from the inside through the application of their knowledge,” said Prof. Godfrey

The DSI also supports the professional development of researchers at South African universities and science councils. A total of 162 researchers and collaborators were supported on research grants this past year.

“In this way, we are able to strengthen the knowledge base around waste management and unlock new opportunities for innovation, including new technology development, which can be adopted by industry and government,” Dr Roman added.

The intention is to support the development of new high-value end-use markets through RD&I that will assist in diverting waste away from landfill towards value-adding opportunities.

“We are pleased to share the findings of three projects completed this past year. These projects range from understanding why people litter and how to mitigate this, to the development of high-value products from agricultural waste streams, to assessing the level of circularity of the South African economy,” said Dr Roman.

The research funded by the DSI under the Waste RD&I Roadmap was released through 49 scientific publications in the last year.

This includes, amongst others, technical reports, journal papers and conference presentations. Because these research projects are publicly funded, research outputs are made publicly available on the Waste RD&I Roadmap website, to benefit the broader waste community in South Africa and internationally.

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