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PhD student Takunda Chitaka wins 2019 Excellence in Academia PETCO Award

PhD student Takunda Chitaka has received the 2019 Excellence in Academia PETCO Award for her engineering approach towards tackling plastic marine pollution. This recognition highlights the need for peer-reviewed research that supports strategic interventions in the areas of recycling, waste minimisation and sustainability.



The PET Recycling Company (PETCO) annual awards are given to people and organisations making strides in sustainability at grassroots level across South Africa. The company states that in 2018, 98,649 tonnes of PET plastic bottles were recycled through their collective dedication and efforts, enabling PETCO to expand its collection network, build relationships with recyclers, and seek new opportunities to develop and support entrepreneurs.

PETCO chief executive officer Cheri Scholtz said the organisation’s greatest asset was “the remarkable network of partners we work with every day.”

“We are therefore delighted to be able to recognise and celebrate the significant efforts made by our 14 worthy Winners towards the recycling of post-consumer PET in South Africa.”

One of the 2019 recipients is a PhD student at University of Cape Town (UCT) Department of Chemical Engineering. Takunda Chitaka received the Excellence in Academia PETCO Award for her engineering approach towards tackling plastic marine pollution.


According to UCT’s Faculty of Engineering and The Built Environment website, Chitaka has analysed empirical evidence since 2016 based on beaches in Cape Town to estimate the litter flows into the marine environment.

Read: Is it possible to live plastic free?

“On day one, you clean the beach of all the litter. The next day you return and pick up all the litter again, which gives you 24 hours of litter that has washed up onto the beach. Academically this is generally acknowledged to be a good proxy of what is flowing into the ocean,” Chitaka explained.

She analysed five beaches and found one beach had approx. 36 items per 100 meter per day, where the other beach had 3000 items. She also noticed how the composition of the litter has changed.

“Ten years ago, everyone was concerned about plastic bags,” she said. “In my litter collection, I found very few plastic bags across all the beaches. Lots of polystyrene packaging, snack packets and straws were found. A mitigation approach focused on items associated with food consumed on the go may address a third to a half of marine litter sources in Cape Town.”


Chitaka hopes for her research is, “that it helps to inform the way forward for the plastics economy in South Africa.”

In their support of her and other using academic research to identify solutions, the PETCO annual award recognises the importance of having peer-reviewed research underpinning strategic interventions into the broad areas of recycling, waste minimisation and sustainability.

Another notable award winner is nine year old ‘Waste Reduction Youth Warrior’ Rocco Antonio Da Silva. He started the Future Kids Club in the Western Cape to create awareness and get the youth in his area to commit to participating in monthly beach and community clean-ups. Reports indicate that over the last 14 months, members of his club have collected in excess of 950kg of rubbish off a local 400m stretch of beach.

Read: African innovation: UCT unveils world’s first bio-bricks made from human urine


A list of the award categories and winners includes:

Category: Waste Reduction Youth Warrior,

Winners: Rocco Antonio Da Silva, The Future Kids Club (Cape Town, Western Cape) and Rotondwa Musitha, Trash Converters (Limpopo)

Category: Top Woman in Recycling

Winner: Jocelyn Van Der Ross, Green Spot Recycling (Franschhoek, Western Cape)


Category: Media Spotlight

Winner: Wendy Knowler (Cape Town, Western Cape)

Category: Excellence in Academia

Winners: Takunda Chitaka, University of Cape Town (Cape Town, Western Cape) and Melanie Samson, University of the Witwatersrand (Johannesburg, Gauteng)

Category: PET-trepreneur of the Year


Winners: Makhabisi Recycling and Trading Co (Boksburg, Gauteng) and Nzima Recycle Centre (Humansdorp, Eastern Cape)

Category: Local Authority Recycling Innovation

Winner: Drakenstein Municipality (Paarl, Western Cape)

Category: Recycling Partnership Gamechanger

Winner: Fair Cape Dairies (Cape Town)


Category: Recycled Product of the Year

Winner: Corruseal (Cape Town, Western Cape)

Category: Best Community Breakthrough Initiative

Winner: Angels Resource Centre (De Aar, Northern Cape)

Category: Public Campaign of the Year


Winner: Thrive (Hout Bay, Western Cape)

Category: CEO Special Award

Winner: John Kieser, Environmental Manager, Plastics SA (Cape Town, Western Cape)