Ongoing innovation drives effective water and waste management at Maropeng

  • August 01, 2011

Maropeng situated in the heart of the Cradle of Humankind is one of only eight World Heritage Sites in South Africa, and the only one in Gauteng. With the world’s environmental challenges escalating at a rapid rate, the issues of accelerated climate change, conservation and biodiversity, energy, recycling, waste reduction and food security are becoming all the more pertinent. This growing concern has seen Maropeng joining the global movement to address these issues.

As an award-winning tourist attraction, Maropeng welcomes more than 250 000 visitors to the Cradle of Humankind each year and is setting the green standard for other businesses and industries with its pro-active environmental responsibility programme and dedicated teams who strive to keep the environment clean and sustainable. From careful recycling and consistently making sure the area is waste-free, to water conservation technology and training staff in the ways of being eco-friendly, Maropeng is proudly green and an ambassador for responsible tourism in South Africa.

The latest in its greening initiatives is the recent construction of a new ozone wastewater purifications system at the Sterkfontein Caves. The world-renowned caves are home to the oldest and most continuous palaeontological dig in the world. They are also the site of discovery of the famous pre-human skull affectionately known as Mrs Ples, and an almost complete hominid skeleton called Little Foot, dated 2.3 and 4.17 million years old respectively.

“It’s interesting to note that the Sterkfontein Caves, just a few kilometres from the Maropeng Visitor Centre, were once completely covered by water. It is therefore apt that we concentrated on targeting water conservation at the caves,” says Mark Fouché, environmental and maintenance manager at Maropeng.

The innovative new system uses ozone from the atmosphere to accelerate the breaking down of solids by bacteria and also to sterilise water. It has been designed to replace Sterkfontein’s septic tanks and provide a far more eco-friendly solution to waste management in the area. 

“From the start, Maropeng has been environmentally focussed and we are continuously looking at innovative ways to reduce our wastage,” comments Fouché. “Maropeng’s Heritage Environmental status is currently silver and we are currently engaged in a strategy to achieve gold status. The process is intensive but we are committed to making it a reality.”

Another water management initiative is an artificial wetland system, called an SSF CWS – Subsurface Flow Constructed Wetland System at Maropeng’s Visitor Centre.The wetland has been specially designed to naturally assist in the filtering and cleansing of the site’s grey and black water. It has been in existence at Maropeng since it first opened and was constructed in order to conserve energy by minimising the site’s reliance on sewage processing plants, and in the spirit of making Maropeng more self-sustainable.

Within the Visitor Centre, a large portion of the permanent exhibition is dedicated to assessing the impact that the world’s population is having on the environment. The exhibition also functions as a platform to highlight how everyone can do their bit to address these issues.

Maropeng’s operations manager, Zanomsa Zozi heads up the site’s very own Green Team who has been tasked with the ongoing job of reducing Maropeng’s carbon footprint. “The aim at Maropeng is to ensure that the natural environment surrounding the Visitor Centre and Sterkfontein remains as natural as possible. The Green Team has put a number of policies in place and made them routine. These include simple actions such as turning lights off at the end of the working day to ensuring that all waste is separated correctly so that it can be recycled,” says Zozi.

Maropeng’s environmental team annually plants indigenous trees for Arbour Day and focusses on conserving the surrounding natural environment. Maropeng recently walked away with a silver certificate in the Landscape and Turf Maintenance and Water Wise categories at the South African Landscapers Institute (Sali) Awards for the maintenance of its grasslands and wetlands.

To maintain its position as not only a place of ongoing scientific discovery into human origins, but also a place of contemplation – a place that allows us to reflect on who we are, where we come from and where we are going to - Maropeng staff are continuously re-evaluating and celebrating the measures put in place to reduce its environmental footprint. “The careful management of this unique site is a clear priority if the site is to be preserved and sustainably utilised,” concludes Zozi.

Compiled on behalf of Maropeng by Cathy Findley Public Relations.
For more information contact:

Nicolle Kairuz
Tel: 011 463 6372

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