Caption: Dr Suzan Oelofse, South Africa’s ‘go-to’ person when it comes to waste-related issues. Oelofse officially took her place as the President of the Institute of Waste Management Southern Africa (IWMSA) from 01 July 2014, with a vision to better the country as a whole in the way waste is dealt with.
Local Jo’burger, ballroom dancer and photography enthusiast, Dr Suzan Oelofse, has been involved in an industry perceived as a ‘man’s world’ for many years. Oelofse the Research Group Leader for Waste for Development at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research’s (CSIR) Natural Resources and Environment Operating Unit, joined the Institute of Waste Management of Southern Africa (IWMSA) in early 2006.
Although a botanist by training and having obtained her PhD in Plant Physiology from the University of Johannesburg, Oelofse’s career in botany was short-lived. “I joined the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) in the pollution and waste section in 1996 where I was involved in the development of the White Paper for Integrated Pollution and Waste Management project as well as the first National Waste Management Strategy”, explains Oelofse.
Frequenting industrial sites early on in her career, Oelofse describes how she could not understand why the heaps of waste could not be used for something else. “The thought that all waste generated is in essence the result of consumer demand and consumption made me realise how unsustainable human activities are and thus my passion for waste management was born”, says Oelofse.
Oelofse believes that perceptions are changing when it comes to the waste industry and the role of women in waste management. “Women are much needed in the waste industry and with more and more women pursuing careers in waste management – on every level – I envisage a radical shift over the next few years towards an ethical, innovative and properly legislated industry”, says Oelofse.
“Being the President of the IWMSA provides me with the opportunity to influence the strategic direction of the IWMSA to ensure that we remain relevant and that we continue to make a difference in the waste management community”, says Oelofse. Establishing a working relationship with the Department of Environmental Affairs has been an achievement that Oelofse is most proud of since having joined the IWMSA team.
As President, her main areas of focus will be strengthening relationships with government, supporting the role of the IWMSA in regulating the industry, and shifting the focus from waste disposal to realising the resource potential of waste and implementing innovative technologies.
“All new developments under the Waste Act have implications for our members and the waste industry as a whole,” says Oelofse. “It is therefore imperative that the waste sector’s voice is heard at the appropriate level to have the necessary influence and impact towards improved waste management standards and legislation. The IWMSA is currently updating all its training material to include all the latest developments in legislation”.
Given the increased need for a regulatory body to oversee the conduct of the waste industry, Oelofse says she will further endeavour to position the IWMSA favourably for taking up this role and working with the authorities towards establishing a mutually acceptable system.
“Other exciting news for the industry is that we can look forward to having qualified waste management professionals in the near future”, says Oelofse. The Department of Science and Technology, in collaboration with South African Universities, is developing post-graduate qualifications in Waste Management.
Oelofse encourages the public to help preserve the country by getting involved in recycling initiatives. “WasteCon 2014, our flagship waste management conference is truly world class and should not be missed. It promises to be very informative and will be held from 06 to10 October 2014 at the Lord Charles Hotel in Somerset West”. Oelofse notes the transformation that the IWMSA has achieved in its membership. “It clearly shows that waste management is creating job opportunities, especially for previously disadvantaged individuals”, she explains.
For more information about IWMSA and WasteCon 2014, visit www.iwmsa.co.za or contact 011-675-3462.