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SANO: Workshop on the disposal of waste and wastewater

Workshop-participants visiting an informal settlement
Workshop-participants visiting an informal settlement

In order to meet the challenges faced, particularly by South Africa in relation to the handling of waste and wastewater, a Young Scientist Workshop for the Bauhaus-Universität Weimar and the North-West University took place in South Africa at the beginning of March. In the context of the SANO project, “Sustainable Resource Based Sanitation and Organic Waste Utilisation”, the young scientists held their discussions in Potchefstroom in South Africa. The objectives of the bilateral cooperation are to exchange knowledge and experiences on the subject, to strengthen networking between the participating universities and to promote international mobility among young scientists.

At the workshop, which took place from 4 to 13 March, scientists, environmental managers, sociologists, lawyers and engineers were split into different work groups where they discussed the current state of research and determined the future fields of activity and interfaces for the focal points of research. The topics were highly diversified and included, among other things, treatment technologies and systems for collecting and taking away waste and wastewater. A wide set of issues relating to the management of recyclable materials and the possibilities for involving the relevant communities was also discussed.

In plenary sessions and discussions, the current situation of the disposal of waste and wastewater in South Africa was explained to the participants and visits to a variety of institutions and communities gave a practical insight. The researchers toured a plant for treating wastewater and composting fermentation residues in the South African local municipality of Tlokwe, and the mining company Mintalis gave them an insight into the field of re-cultivation of gold mining areas that are no longer in use. Furthermore, the scientists visited the townships of Ikageng and Sarafina as well as informal settlements around Sarafina. While the townships already benefitted from basic infrastructure for electricity and drinking water and sometimes even had a wastewater disposal system, these structures were not present in the informal settlements.

A direct insight into the current situation and the living conditions of the residents made the possibilities of targeted improvements to the disposal of waste and wastewater in the townships clear. Using the city of Potchefstroom as an example, the scientists worked out future prospects for the realisation of the SANO project. Research will mainly be focused on making it possible for organic material flows from informal settlements to be established and for the energy that could potentially be produced to be used for public spaces, for street lighting for example. In this context the project considers the provision of drinking water for households as an incentive system.

In the SANO vision, which should be viewed as an almost utopian end result for cities, the scientists are combining further improvements for living quarters. Safe waste disposal, access to sanitary facilities and a secure energy supply are planned for informal settlements. In the townships, the focus is on the introduction of rainwater sewer systems and waste collections. In the town centre, the SANO project provides for waste separation, water conservation and rainwater recycling.

The universities are now aiming to establish a joint PhD programme to enable further research in the field of the disposal of waste and wastewater and to consolidate the bilateral cooperation.