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An estimated 65% of municipal organic waste, and nearly 100% of commercially exploitable biomass from the agricultural and food processing sectors, is still disposed of on land, resulting in significant potential for greenhouse gas emissions. In 2010, the waste sector was the second largest contributor to the country's total methane emissions. 

Academics appointed to investigate improving waste management in SAHowever, organic waste presents a considerable opportunity as a resource, whether as compost, bioenergy or high-value product recovery through a bio-refinery. Government has therefore launched South Africa's first ever research chairs on waste management, who will focus on targeted research around the potential impact of waste on the climate, appropriate mitigation technologies for South Africa, and the impacts of climate change on the sector.

The Research Chair in Waste and Climate has been 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.

The South African Research Chairs Initiative (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.

The new chairs fall under the 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. This change requires 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, she says.

“Given the challenges and opportunities facing South Africa with respect to waste, and the role of research, development and innovation in supporting the sector's transition, the DST is proud to launch the first two research chairs in solid waste management in South Africa, in partnership with the National Research Foundation and Council for Scientific and Industrial Research,” says Director for Environmental Services and Technologies at the Department Science and Technology (DST), Dr Henry Roman.

Image credit: Copyright: lightwise / 123RF Stock Photo

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