A study focused on improving electronic waste (e-waste) management at UKZN secured Mr Mayuren Govender a summa cum laude MSc degree in Engineering.
Supervised by the SARChI Chair in Waste and Climate Change, Professor Cristina Trois, Govender developed an integrated waste management plan using the Waste Resource Optimization and Scenario Evaluation (WROSE) model.
‘UKZN is one of the top higher learning institutes in Africa,’ said Govender. ‘During my undergraduate degree I had the best experience. The environment, infrastructure and academic staff are world class. UKZN was my first-choice university.’
Govender explained how the new postgraduate programme in Waste and Resource Management (WARM) offered by Trois appealed to him. ‘I believed that the WARM programme, taught by experts in the waste management field, would greatly improve the quality of my work – which it did, momentously. Prof Trois is one of the best researchers in the world and working with her was a big reason for me joining the WARM programme.
‘I selected UKZN because universities are considered to be at the frontier for research and development and often establish higher standards for social responsibility and environmental conservancy than other institutions,’ he said.
The aim of Govender’s research was to help UKZN improve its current waste management strategy to accommodate electronic waste, and assist in the creation of a green UKZN.The objectives were to investigate the current e-waste management practices, then determine, by using the WROSE model, appropriate strategies to manage the e-waste in an economical and sustainable manner.
Govender explained what motivated his research interest: ‘During my final year as an undergraduate in Civil Engineering, our lecturer in a waste management lesson, was listing waste streams – and e-waste was not mentioned. So I spoke to him after class and he told me that there was not much research on e-waste, and in particular e-waste in the South African context.
‘I thought it was an interesting angle to follow as the results of research in that area would be useful for future researchers and society. I decided the best place to start with this was at home, so I began at UKZN!’
His research – a first for UKZN – analyses the University’s current electronic waste management strategy, exposing shortcomings and deficiencies being experienced. His study has produced valuable information that will serve as a guide for better e-waste management practices moving forward.
Govender currently works for Fountain Green Energy (FGE), one of the largest engineering, procurement and construction management companies in the renewable energy sector. ‘We are currently working on the first landfill gas to energy plant in the Western Cape,’ he said. ‘My future career plans are strongly footed in renewable energy and in waste valorisation.’
He plans to embark on his PhD journey later this year, focusing on the e-waste footprint resulting from rapid urban digitalisation. ‘I will look at how much e-waste we produce as we adopt more and more technological solutions in our society,’ he said.
Govender thanked his parents for their support and guidance, especially his mother whose dream it was for him to become an engineer. He also paid tribute to Trois, ‘for giving so many people just like me the opportunity to be a part of her wonderful research group family, and introducing us to some of the best researchers in the world through the WARM Programme. My thanks also to Dr Surabhi Srivastava, Dr Jochen Peterson and Dr Tandizile Moyo for all their guidance and time spent working with me’.
When not tackling e-waste, Govender enjoys physical exercise and combat sports. He also tutors young people in mathematics, and is intrigued by the metaverse. ‘I have recently completed a course on non-fungible tokens (NFTs),’ he said. ‘I think this space is really hot and everyone should take note.’
And his final words of wisdom? ‘As Harry S. Truman said: “Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavour”.’
Words: Sally Frost
Photograph: Rajesh Jantilal