(Published - 8 March 2019)
President Cyril Ramaphosa launched a ground-breaking national Good Green Deeds programme today (8 March 2019) that will promote sustainable waste management and environmental awareness - two things that the University of the Western Cape holds in high regard.
“Urban waste management is one of the major challenges facing cities - particularly in developed countries,” says UWC’s Prof Catherina Schenck, who holds the DST-NRF SARChI Chair in Waste and Society. “This is a threat to human health, the environment and the well-being of urban residents - and to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals. This national call-to-action has the potential to enact real and much-needed change.”
The focus of the GGD programme will be on promoting sustainable waste management practices, such as recycling, and on galvanising society at large to change their behaviour around waste, pollution and the environment.
“The Constitution guarantees the right of all South Africans to an environment that is not harmful to their health and well-being,” a statement issued by the Presidency read. “Littering, illegal dumping, pollution and other harmful activities have ill effects on the natural environment as well as the quality of life and health of communities.”
In South Africa, 54,000 tonnes of waste are generated every day - of which only 10% is recycled and the remainder goes to landfills or illegal dumpsites. Nearly 40% of the waste is dumped illegally and/or burned, and this has major implications for aspects such as health, environmental degradation, and the well-being of people.
“Waste generation is a human activity, but people tend to distance themselves from waste by their actions and interactions,” Prof Schenck notes. “People tend to see waste management as a technical operation, but it is in fact a socio-economic issue. As people generate waste, their health is affected by the waste - and they can create livelihoods around waste and recycling.”
Diverting waste from landfills will not only promote environmental health, but also provide considerable social, economic and environmental opportunities for the country, including job creation and enterprise development.
“If we rethink the way we deal with our waste, we can not only build a cleaner and more environmentally friendly South Africa - we can also create job opportunities and help combat unemployment.”
UWC is also leading efforts to deal with the direct consequences of waste. Professor Leslie Petrik of UWC’s Department of Chemistry is leading research to prove that fly ash, the residue from burning coal at power stations, can provide a cost-effective alternative to cement.
“This is the single largest form of waste being generated in South Africa,” she notes. “Every year, 36 million tonnes of fly ash is produced by burning coal for power, and most of this goes to designated waste disposal sites.”
But Prof Petrik and others at UWC’s Environmental NanoSciences group have devised an award-winning Fly Ash Acid Mine Drainage (AMD) technology that involves the treatment of mine water with coal fly ash (ash produced from burning powdered coal) using a jet loop reactor in one simple procedure, reducing the contaminants to acceptable levels and thereby remediating contaminated water which can then be used for agricultural and industrial purposes.
“Water quality is a serious issue that affects millions worldwide, including right here in South Africa where acid mine drainage can be a significant pollutant,” Petrik explains. “AMD is extremely harmful to the environment and is a major problem in South Africa and countries with mining activities.”
The Big Picture: Green Good Deeds In Everyday Life
UWC is no stranger to greening – the University is the chair for Higher Education Campus Sustainability, and has thrice been elected national Green Campus of the Year by the Association of College and University Housing Officers International, Southern Africa Chapter (ACUHO-ISA).
The University of the Western Cape’s Green Campus Initiative (UWC-GCI) chapter consists of over 2,000 student volunteers who actively participate in various campus clean-ups, create vegetable and indigenous gardens at residences, participate in formal green talks and debates, and host green awareness-raising activities.
At UWC, even the feral cats play their part. They’re provided a safe environment and decent care - and in return, they provide a natural means of pest control. Even the feral cats play their part. They’re provided a safe environment and decent care - and in return, they provide a natural means of pest control.
“Going green means making greening part of our daily lives,” Njabulo Maphumulo, UWC Green Campus Initiative Leader, explains. “It’s not just about special green projects and academic research and special technologies. It’s about the way we eat, the way we travel, the way we shop and live. Adopting a green lifestyle means thinking of the future - and that’s something we could all benefit from.”
UWC will be hosting the 8th Green Campuses Conference from 30 June to 4 July 2019, themed "Enhancing Green Campuses Innovation in Southern Africa" and focusing on the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Want to know more about how UWC is going green? Find out more here...