An assessment of the potential for waste minimisation in small and medium size enterprises in South Africa

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

Against a background of a chemical engineering degree and a few years of industrial experience, I undertook this M.Sc. degree with the conviction that chemical engineering skills have a unique role to play in addressing environmental problems of pollution generated by industrial activity. Moreover, given that, of industrial activity, it is chemical processing industries (CPI) and mining industries which are the major contributors to generation of waste, hazardous waste in particular, it is appropriate that the chemical engineering profession, which populates such industry activities, should assume such responsibility. In response to increasingly vociferous demands for more stringent environmental control over industrial activity, and regulatory compliance with stricter constraints on emissions of pollutants, there is a tendency to rely on readily available end-of-pipe solutions to resolve environmental management problems. This strategy is embodied in current practices in South Africa at effluent treatment- and landfill disposal facilities. Yet this is a costly solution in the long term, with implications for increasing operating costs, investment costs for development of new facilities, as well as closure and potential liability costs for old facilities. Furthermore, this strategy fails to address problems of resource depletion and the potential for resource recovery from materials considered to be "waste". Waste minimisation offers an alternative waste management strategy which seeks to reduce the generation of waste before end-of-pipe management is required, and to recover resources for reuse, thereby reducing resource consumption. The Department of Environment Affairs in the South African government has recommended that there should be research in the application of waste minimisation. While clearly there is a need for fundamental research into particular technological problems (such research is being undertaken at some institutions), the approach I adopted was to investigate potential for effecting meaningful waste minimisation solutions using procedures and techniques which constitute popular waste minimisation assessment methodologies. I focused specifically on small and medium scale industry operators which traditionally do not employ chemical engineering skills and which need a practical tool to improve in-house environmental management capability.