Unsustainable production and consumption is driving climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution – and it shows no sign of abating. Between 2000 and 2017, the global material footprint, a measure of the raw materials extracted from Earth to meet consumption demands, grew by 70%.
Economic growth has historically relied heavily on material consumption and production; responsible consumption and production lies in decoupling the two.
Research at UCT approaches responsible production and consumption from multiple perspectives.
Mining shapes many African economies, including South Africa’s. At UCT, chemical engineering researchers are asking, how can the industry continue to provide the materials essential to our lives while also becoming more people- and planet-centred? Their research, education and engagement aligns technical expertise with a wide-ranging interdisciplinary approach to address issues such as mine waste, e-waste recovery and remediation of abandoned mines.
The DSI/NRF Community of Practice-funded ‘Towards Resilient Futures’ project – a collaboration between UCT researchers in economics, engineering, law and social sciences – is looking at fibre-rich plants, such as bamboo, as a route to remediating degraded mining land in a way that is economically feasible and helps to create sustainable and inclusive economic growth.
For many communities in sub-Saharan Africa, power supply is erratic – or non-existent – yet feedstocks and wastes from which energy can be generated are abundant. UCT engineers are adopting the supply chain concept to develop techniques to optimally integrate the various energy-rich feedstocks and wastes to meet demand for clean energy while simultaneously reducing waste.
To help inform progress towards Goal 12, the Environmental and Process Systems Engineering Group at UCT investigates material flows within the South African economy and its route to becoming circular.
The reduction of waste is another key area being tackled at UCT. Civil engineers are investigating ways to harness the ‘liquid gold’ of wastewater. Among their outputs are a process for creating a building material using urine as a resource and an innovative fertiliser-producing urinal.