EuCheMS at the EC Circular Economy Mission to South Africa

As presented in the last issue of CiE, the Circular Economy (CE) is a priority for the EU, being a challenge and an opportunity and displaying great potential for the generation of jobs. In this context, led by the Directorate-General for Environment of the European Commission (DG Environment), the Circular Economy Mission to South Africa (CEMSA) took place from 2 – 5 May this year, following previous CE missions to China and Chile. These actions intend to share EU strategies in CE with local companies and institutions, as well as to provide an overview of the achievements carried out in Europe and of the technologies developed by European companies and institutions. The mission statement of the DG-Environment[1] can only be achieved with a global perspective and by incorporating stakeholders from other regions.

As for other CEMs, EuCheMS was invited to participate in the CEMSA, which was very relevant taking into account the key position of South Africa in different chemistry-related areas, e.g. mineral resources, synthetic fuels and the existence of a variety of initiatives to establish the bases of CE in SA.

The activities carried out during the CEMSA involved around 40 European participants, including the EC’s Director-General for Environment, Mr. Daniel Calleja, and took place in parallel to the events of the World Economic Forum in Africa 2017. The initial activity in Johannesburg was the seminar on CE in the mining/metals value chain organized with the support of Eurometaux and the Chamber of Mines of SA, followed by a forum with SA business representatives, including members of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, other business associations and industrial associations like Plastics and Chemical and Allied Industries, with the final participation of the EU ambassador in SA and the Premier of the Gauteng region, Mr. David Mahkura. On the second day in Pretoria, a technical meeting with SA government representatives from the Departments of Trade and Industry, Science and Technology and Environmental Affairs took place at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) headquarters, the main research institution in South Africa. This was followed by visits to projects in the Pretoria-Johannesburg area, including plants for PET recycling, visits to landfills to analyze waste collection and diverting processes or to an initiative, in cooperation with a chemical EU company, to develop low-cost housing solutions in areas like Soweto from plastic materials that usually cannot be recycled. On the third day, the CEMSA visited Durban for the EU-South Africa Dialogue on Sustainability Transition: The Role of Circular Economy. In this event, with participation of the Minister of Environmental Affairs, Ms Edna Molewa, representatives from both sides discussed their perspectives and experiences on CE and on the needs and challenges of SA in this area and how the EU-SA interaction can be beneficial. The activities included the presentation of initiatives from SA CE entrepreneurs looking for European financial or technical support. A clear message obtained was the requirement of solutions specifically designed for the current SA challenges, avoiding a direct transfer of approaches and technologies that can be efficient in Europe but could not achieve the goals and needs for SA. The main focus was given to waste collection, management and valorization through reuse and recycling and how this can be used, simultaneously, to alleviate poverty. It is estimated that more than 45,000 people are involved in the collection of waste in the main urban areas of South Africa. Finally, the last day in Durban was devoted to business to business meetings and visits to other CE initiatives within the Kwala-Zulu Natal Province Industrial Symbiosis Programme, including the generation of building materials from the ash from bagasse in sugar cane mills or the bioconversion of fecal waste into different valuable agro-products.


Santiago Luis
Chair of EuCheMS Division of Chemistry and the Environment