Waste, Job Creation, and Higher Ed

 

The following paragraphs are from an article written by Sharon Dell for University World News Global Edition, “South Africa: Universities of Technology Eye Rich Prospects in Waste”:

“South African universities of technology are positioning themselves as critical partners in what is considered a fairly new but highly relevant area of research, innovation and job creation: waste recycling and management, an industry conservatively estimated by the government to be worth R25 billion (US$1.6 billion) per annum. South African universities of technology are positioning themselves as critical partners in what is considered a fairly new but highly relevant area of research, innovation and job creation: waste recycling and management, an industry conservatively estimated by the government to be worth R25 billion (US$1.6 billion) per annum.

“A memorandum of understanding is set to be signed between the South African Technology Network or SATN, the Department of Environmental Affairs and the Technology Innovation Agency or TIA – the public entity tasked with getting innovations to the marketplace.

“The initiative will harness the resources of universities of technology to build capacity, and formalise growing levels of cooperation around waste management between sectors. A unique masters degree in waste management – a partnership between SATN and TIA – is also in the pipeline. . . .

“’There has been a paradigm shift towards the idea of waste as a creator of jobs,’ she told University World News. The idea would be to create new skills and foster entrepreneurship at all levels of the value chain, including at the level of waste-pickers.

“’We intend to put out calls for new indigenous technologies aimed at pickers, so that waste collection can become a respectable and safe vocation,’ she said.

“TIA CEO Barlow Manilal said the memorandum of understanding had a number of focal areas, including the application of research, technology and innovation to waste beneficiation and the creation of entrepreneurs at every point along the waste value chain.“

 

Now, in the context of that effort to exploit the economic possibilities of waste, consider the following excerpt from a Los Angeles Times interview with Edward Humes, the author of Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash:

“’America’s biggest export is trash–the scrap paper and metal we throw away. The Chinese buy it, make products out of it, sell them back to us at enormous profit, and we turn it into trash again. America, the country that once made things for the world, is now China’s trash compactor.

“’The average American community spends more on waste management than fire protection, libraries, parks and recreation and textbooks.

“’Things are much worse than the official stats suggest. The EPA, which publishes our annual “trash bible” of municipal waste statistics, uses an outdated method that vastly underestimates our waste and overestimates our recycling.’”

There is a parallel here to the difference between exporting raw materials and exporting the value-added products made from those raw materials. If we want to build a base of jobs that provide good incomes and reliable employment, this is one possibility that we have largely ignored. And there is a significant role for higher education to play in developing new models for this industry.

 

Sharon Dell’s complete article is available at: http://www.universityworldnews.com/article.php?story=20160615111123284.

The complete interview with Edward Humes is available here: http://articles.latimes.com/2012/apr/17/entertainment/la-et-0417-edward-humes-20120417.

 

3 thoughts on “Waste, Job Creation, and Higher Ed

  1. For those interested in the larger global changes in the HEI’s, UWN is an important follow. The article on waste recycling in South Africa is interesting only because it’s, like much in Africa, a lagging indicator. The waste issue and jobs is the same as electronics and other manufactured items, a question of labor and wages as well as, in the case of electronic recycling, a question of health and safety issues that protect workers and the environment. As with other manufacturing, much of the technology is from the developed world.

    Universities in the US have been actively engaged in the waste-to-opportunity area for over a half century and even more so today now that the public is sensitive to the issues of water, land and air quality and climate change. Probably many on this list now have their outdoor furniture made from recycled plastics and many of the plastic containers are layered to protect food such as soft drinks.

    The American Association of Sustainabiity in Higher Education has an exhibit at their annual meeting which looks like a promotion for every option that a campus can use that is made from or has recycled components, though it should be more a show for the managers of the physical plant and planning, SCUP. Their sessions include many student projects, also.

    But the issue is more than the technological, as noted regarding recycled goods coming back to the US. It touches on all the issues around international trade, regulations, labor, and politics, the transpacific and transatlantic trade agreements and social issues. South Africa and Africa in general is a lagging indicator but more than likely the Chinese, as they have, already, moved industries to low wage countries. Why not the waste-to-opportunity.

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