Waste as a Resource, Topic of Dean of Engineering’s Royal Society Lecture
The possibilities of waste as a resource were unpacked in a Royal Society Public Lecture presented by Dean and Head of the School of Engineering, Professor Cristina Trois.
Trois explained in her presentation that local authorities in Africa, and in emerging economies in general, were faced with a widespread lack of capacity and often poor institutional support in the decision-making process for the selection and implementation of the most appropriate and sustainable waste management strategies. This was exacerbated by the lack of suitable data on waste composition throughout the continent.
Trois said South Africa generated 108 million tons of total waste a year, of which 98 million tons is land-filled. Only 10% of total waste is currently recycled.
‘Waste-to-energy technologies are becoming the “low hanging” fruit in Africa and an interesting vehicle to realise a Green Economy,’ said Trois, ‘but very few are indeed implemented owing to a lack of investment or poor institutional support at Governmental level.
‘Our duty as environmental engineers is to build capacity in local authorities.’ Trois’s lecture highlighted more than 15 years of research, development and innovation in Environmental Sanitary Engineering at UKZN. Projects mentioned included research and design for the first leachate treatment plant in South Africa; the first pilot project on waste pre-treatment; work on a national team for the development of an integrated waste treatment strategy for South Africa, and work at the Mariannhill landfill site, where ‘a dump converted into a fully engineered landfill site, is now a conservation area.’
A future research, development and innovation project mentioned by Trois was a R10 million Lotto grant to research the anaerobic digestion of organic waste at Mkuze game reserve in northern KwaZulu-Natal.
Trois graduated summa cum laude in Environmental Engineering in 1996 and obtained her PhD in Geo and Environmental Engineering in 1999 from the University of Cagliari in Italy.
Since 2012, she has been the Dean and Head of the School of Engineering at UKZN and is now a full Professor in Environmental Engineering. She leads a vibrant research group in Environmental Engineering and Waste Management, is the author of more than 80 peer-reviewed publications and has been a C2 NRF-rated researcher since 2012. She is on the Editorial panels of several international ISI and SAPSE journals.
The Royal Society of South Africa is one of the country’s premier multi-disciplinary scientific organisations and the public face of South African science, whose role is to foster a national culture of science excellence through funding, education and public outreach. Public lectures are organised as one of the vehicles to meet these aims.