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Creating a thriving and regenerative environmental ecosystem at Wits

- Wits University

Wits University is committed to imagine how waste, including food waste, can be better utilised in service of people and the planet.

Wits University is deepening its response to the climate crisis by contributing to the broader knowledge project in the push for adaptation and change. On the ground, the university is pursuing the principles embodied in the circular economy, including better waste management and local food production.  

Reduce, reuse and recycle

The Wits Services Department, headed by Israel Mogomotsi, oversees the university’s recycling efforts, and its commitment to imagine how waste, including food waste, can be better utilised in service of people and the planet.

Mogomotsi has piloted bio-bins in Wits residence kitchens which use bokashi - a process which magically processes most food waste, including bones and starches into compost. This produces rich fertiliser ‘tea’ which enlivens the soil and has the potential to heal micro ecosystems.  The Services Department is currently piloting this system in partnership with the catering service provider in two dining halls.

“In 2023 a procurement process will be undertaken with the intention to identify a suitable waste recycling service provider to partner with Services Department to undertake this role at a larger scale and it is envisaged that enough compost will be produced for use in Wits Campus gardens with the potential to produce enough compost over years to be sold to staff or the surrounding area,” says Mogomotsi.

Wits campus waste management includes waste collection and sorting for recycling at the waste sorting facility on West Campus. This facility has a waste compactor which compresses waste into blocks to reduce the number of loads to the recycling depot, thereby reducing the emissions and cost of transport.

Another strategy ensures that retail operators and vendors on campus are environmentally conscious and use compostable takeaway cups and containers. Mogomotsi explains that all retailers on campus are required to use biodegradable materials and penalties are imposed if they do not comply.

Mogomotsi says that change can seem “overwhelming” but that greater awareness campaigns about the benefits of recycling and environmental care have been necessary. “There has been a real commitment to change at an institutional level. It’s a complete change of mindset but it is happening in stages,” he says.

Wits as a custodian of food sovereignty

The Wits community is reflective of broader socio-economic inequities, where food security is a growing issue. As such, there is a Food Sovereignty Centre at the Wits Sanctuary Building which provides meals to students in need. Food is donated by the Wits Community and the surrounding businesses.

The Wits Citizenship and Community Outreach programme, led by Karuna Singh, is aiming to expand this initiative by making the university self-sustaining in terms of growing and providing food to the surrounding communities. This involves food garden training and planning, as well as promoting food activism. Wits campus is home to various food gardens where vegetables are grown and can be harvested by anyone in need. These food gardens have been developed through a partnership with the Cooperative and Policy Alternative Centre (COPAC), who run agroecology workshops and use them as a demonstration site. See more about these initiatives here.

Some tips for the Wits Community to improve our ability to recycle waste on campus

  • Rinse your plastic and glass containers for ease of recycling and to improve cleanliness during sorting and processing
  • Crush empty bottles and boxes to save space
  • Unfortunately, soft plastics such as cling wraps are not usually recyclable so keep those out of the recycling bins and try to use other materials instead
  • Remove corks and lids of glass bottles before recycling
  • Use reusable bags for your groceries
  • Always recycle these materials:
    • Metal – cans, food tins and aluminium foil
    • Glass – bottles, jars, etc of all colours
    • Paper – office paper, cardboard boxes, magazines, newspaper
    • Plastic – all plastics are recyclable but not all depots recycle them

A detailed guide to recycling in South Africa can be found here:

Wits’ Services Department plan to undertake recycling campaign in 2023 and would invite both staff and students to participate in this awareness campaign.