How Stellenbosch University is aggressively fighting a war on waste

Campus bins

Campus bins

Published Apr 28, 2024


Stellenbosch University University (SU) said it is winning the war against waste as it diverted tons of waste from its campuses away from landfills to recycle projects.

Last year SU diverted more than 1 000 tons collected on three of its five campuses away from landfill, a significant step towards its goal of achieving net zero by 2050.

The university is guided on its net zero journey by its Environmental Sustainability Plan alongside the UN’s 2030 Agenda guide with its 17 Sustainable Development Goals(SDGs).

SU celebrated Earth Week and Earth Day on Monday. Supporting the world theme of “Planet vs Plastics”, the university’s Environmental Sustainability Team and partners hope to raise awareness for waste reduction on campus with two waste installations on the Rooiplein and at the Engineering Faculty during Earth Week.

The waste towers on the Rooiplein will represent two days of waste produced on the Stellenbosch campus. The 3 000kg of waste equals around 30 bales, which the centralised material recycling facility (MRF) produces after they sort the waste they collect daily.

Of this 3 000kg of waste, the university recycles 28%, sends 46% for composting and 26% to landfill. The facility sorts waste and diverts it away from landfill. In 2023 it collected more than 1 million kilos of waste, mostly plastic and paper.

Since this facility was built, the university has succeeded in reducing its waste-to-landfill. “We currently send only 26% to landfill but our goal is to get to zero waste-to-landfill by 2028,” said John de Wet, the university’s environmental sustainability manager.

As part of its efforts towards a greener future, aligned with these goals, the university has invested heavily in energy, water, waste and biodiversity programmes on all its campuses, says De Wet.

“Initiatives include a three-bin sorting system on all campuses, the MRF, the installation of water-saving taps, shower heads and cisterns in residences, grey water systems to recycle shower water and provide water for flushing of toilets, waterwise landscaping, and the installation of photovoltaic panels on the roof of five buildings to reduce carbon emissions and utility costs.”

For the university to reach its net zero target, it needs to decrease its carbon emissions from 85 241 tCO2e to as close to zero as possible. “Waste is one of the elements in this journey, and our diversion-away-from-landfill rate is currently at an impressive annual average of 74% – well above the 50% average reported by other universities,” said De Wet

Recently, in support of university’s contribution to reaching SDG 12: responsible consumption and production, and to raise awareness about Global Recycling Day on March 18, the Environmental Sustainability Team partnered with the UN Association of SA student society, Wasteplan, and the EPR Waste Association of South Africa to host a successful e-waste recycling drive on campus.

Christine Groenewald, the university’s environmental sustainability co-ordinator: Engagement, said: “We want to create awareness of the significance of keeping e-waste out of landfill sites. E-waste contains numerous chemicals and heavy metals that can risk human and ecological health. On the day, the collected e-waste filled four yellow wheelie bins, weighing just over 62kgs,” she said. “Items included keyboards, kettles, charging cables, old phones and batteries, accounting for a third of all the e-waste collected.”

Other recent milestones include the certification by the Green Building Council of South Africa of 18 buildings on the SU campus, and the City of Cape Town’s awarding of 5-star and 3-star ratings to the Tygerberg and Bellville campuses for water management.

Water-wise strategies at Tygerberg resulted in a significant 30 percent reduction in potable water consumption, while Bellville’s potable water supply, which now comes from a deepwater lake and reverse osmosis plant, resulted in minimal water supply coming from the city’s network.

The university’s Sustainable Development Impact Hub, established in late 2021 to help it become more systemically sustainable and highlight contributions to the UN and AU’s agendas, has just released its second Sustainable Development Annual Report (2022/2023) titled A Sustainable Africa: Partnerships for Progress.

Corina du Toit, Programme Manager at the Hub, said: “The report shows how through embracing partnerships and collaboration, Stellenbosch University’s sustainability journey aligned with the 17 SDGs and 20 AU Goals is making a significant impact not only on our community, but also nationally and throughout Africa as it takes the lead in driving future-forward, research, policy, and change.”

Weekend Argus