Fresh water and new homes: all from waste
Not content with establishing the eMalaheni Water Reclamation Plant as a world leader in water purification technology, Peter Gunther, regional manager hydrology, wanted to go a step further by making the plant a zero waste facility. But there was one tricky problem to get around: what exactly to do with the 200 tonnes of gypsum waste eMalaheni produces every day?
Peter Gunther at eMalaheni Water Reclamation Plant
To help answer that question, Peter turned to R&D company Tower Technology. The brief was simple: find practical applications for gypsum that would turn the waste by-product into a valuable asset. "But we wanted to be smart about the kind of applications we looked at," says Peter. "There's no point creating a product that works brilliantly in Outer Mongolia if it isn’t needed in South Africa."
One thing that South Africa needs a lot of is housing. A lack of traditional building materials has created a shortfall in affordable housing across the country. So when Tower Technology's research showed that gypsum could be turned into a low-cost, high quality construction material, Peter knew he had found his solution.
Once the new building material had been rigorously tested and approved, it was ready to go to market. In line with the Mining Charter's requirement to provide affordable home ownership options for employees, the first step was to build 66 gypsum houses for Anglo American workers in the area. Employees are delighted with their new three-bedroom homes, which are affordable with Thermal Coal's housing allowance in securing a bank loan.
Peter's innovation represents a huge step towards meeting eMalaheni's zero waste target. According to Peter, "we have eliminated about 98% of our waste disposal costs. Over a 20-year period, this is a saving of between R250 million and R300 million." Since October 2010 all the gypsum produced is sold to the cement and agricultural industries therefore eliminating solid waste disposal from eMalahleni.
Peter said: "Talking to employees and hearing how much they love their new houses – those kinds of benefits you can't measure. This project has been about helping people, and it gives me a big kick to say that."
Peter has shown that truly innovative thinking can improve almost every aspect of our business, from our environmental performance to our relationship with communities. In 2011 he was recognised through our global employee excellence awards, Applaud.
Watch a video showcasing Peter's work at eMalaheni Water Reclamation Plant.
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