Research

Pertunia sets out to reclaim the land – from waste

Unisa student Pertunia Ndou's waste management innovation was awarded third prize in the waste management category at the Tshwane Inter-University Innovation Challenge in November 2020.

Unisa education student, Pertunia Ndou, is fed up with food wastage. Every year, South African households throw away as much as 1,4 million tons of unwanted food, which ends up on the country’s overloaded, overburdened landfill sites.

The City of Tshwane alone has 10 landfills and five of them are already so full that they have been permanently closed. "A dormant landfill can never be used again; nothing will grow near it and people can never live there," says Pertunia.

She uncovered these and many other concerning facts while researching the food waste solution that she entered for the Tshwane Inter-University Innovation Challenge in November 2020.

The purpose of the challenge was to encourage students from Unisa, the University of Pretoria and the Tshwane University of Technology to help develop innovative solutions to the city’s most pressing service delivery problems, focusing on energy and electricity, waste management, revenue collection and transportation.

Pertunia’s innovation was conceptualised and designed with the help of two partners, Lunga Kula and Ntobeko Mtetwa, both chemical engineers. It will take the form of a recycling bin for household food waste which, instead of clogging up the City’s landfills, will be converted into biofuel.

"The bin has a grinder that shreds all kinds of food waste into small pieces and drops these into the bed of the bin, which contains material that neutralises any odours," she says. The grinder is sealed so that it is safe to use and child-friendly, and can be operated manually or with electricity.

"We will offer a collection service, which includes washing the bin," says Pertunia, referring to her new company, Ubuhlebezwe Waste Solutions, which is already a registered business with its own logo and slogan, "Reclaiming the land from waste".

"We want households to be environmental conservers and to participate in conserving the land. Currently, recycling food waste is not the norm among South African households. Only one in 10 households segregate their waste for recycling and we want to help change that."


Bringing the idea to life

Winning third place in the waste management category of the Tshwane competition will go a long way towards bringing this vision to life. The prize includes access to incubation services and R50 000 in seed funding to further develop her food waste solution. Currently, Pertunia and her business partners are sourcing a manufacturer to make their first working food waste bin.

"We are really taking this seriously," she says, adding that the entrepreneurial skills she acquired while participating in the Tshwane Inter-University Innovation Challenge will be invaluable.

"The training was the eye-opener I needed. It pricks holes in your idea and makes you think: 'What am I missing? Is there a market? What more can be done to make this idea work?' No matter how wonderful your idea seems, there is always more to be added."

And there is always more to be learnt. Pertunia, who already has a BTech degree in human resources, will be continuing with her Education studies at Unisa while building Ubuhlebezwe Waste Solutions, of which she is managing director. "True winning will be achieved when I can say that Ubuhlebezwe is a successful business."

* Submitted by the Research Support Directorate

Publish date: 2021/01/15