Biomimicry wastewater treatment solutions for Africa

by Ofentse Sefolo
Biomimicry wastewater treatment solutions for Africa

Biomimicry, the design and production of a system that is modelled on biological processes, is most important for the future of any human settlement. It allows urban centres to shift their historical model of overpowering and controlling nature, to a model that is more integrated and knowledgeable of natural systems.

“We’re stuck in a paradigm of not even realising we’re part of nature,” said Shannon Royden Turner, director at Actuality, in an interview with Future Cape Town.

Actuality, BiomimicrySA and the Western Cape Government joined forces in 2013 to help facilitate the Berg River Improvement Plan (BRIP), specifically focusing on the Langrug informal settlement. Langrug has a population of 4 000 inhabitants and the aim of BRIP is to more effectively manage the wastewater, storm water and solid waste issues faced due to a lack of infrastructure.

Isidima Civils approached Western Cape Terraforce approved contractor, Terrafirma, in 2016 to install 1 000m² of Terracrete hard lawn paver blocks. Terracrete blocks are permeable, interlocking, concrete pavers that encourage water infiltration and prevent rain water runoff, mitigating large volumes of urban runoff that can cause serious erosion and siltation in surface water bodies. Permeable paved surfaces also help to control pollutants, as they capture heavy metals, preventing them from washing downstream and accumulating inadvertently in the environment.

A journalist for the Franschhoek Tattler, Siegfried Schäfer, visited the site last year discovered that the difference this project is making to the community is already noticeable.

“Superficially, blocks S and T of the Langrug informal settlement may look much the same as the other blocks. Looking a little deeper though, one soon discovers that something exciting is happening here and the differences suddenly become obvious. Plastic litter that seems to be everywhere in the settlement is absent here. So are the open streams of foul wastewater. The path between the shacks has a curb to give it a level surface and channel storm water to the nearest storm water drain. Perhaps most strikingly, the informal road is paved with open grass pavers and there are large indigenous trees every few metres along the road,” said Siegfried.

The project includes monitoring and research by postgraduate students funded by the Department of Science & Technology and the Water Research Commission.

“Every aspect is being documented with the aim of learning as much as possible. Lessons learnt will determine the feasibility of implementing this within the whole community and possibly to other informal (and formal) settlements elsewhere,” added Siegfried.

The use of ecomachines (biomimicry wastewater treatment systems) for treating storm water at source is the next focus area of the project, which is planned for construction on a section of land adjacent to the Groendal Secondary School soccer field. Other future phases include solid waste collection points and encouraging entrepreneurship around waste recycling and upcycling.

For more information, contact Terraforce on +27 (21) 465 1907 or via www.terraforce.com.

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