The University of Wollongong is committed to working towards the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through its governance, teaching and learning, community engagement, partnerships and research. The following initiatives are by UOW staff and students working towards SDG 6: Clean Water and Sanitation.
Goal 6: Clean Water and Sanitation
Bottled water creates large amounts of waste, with plastic bottles among the ten most common rubbish items picked up on Cleanup Australia Day. Australia recycles only 36% of PET plastic drink bottles. Around 373 million plastic water bottles end up as waste each year. At UOW campuses, water drinking fountains and/or bottle refill locations are available to all, across buildings and at numerous outdoor locations.
Landscaping minimising water usage
Landscape plantings at UOW are local endemic native plants adapted to climate conditions of the area. Irrigated areas are restricted to sporting facilities and ceremonial lawns. The UOW Environmental Management Plan establishes a target of increased native species planted on the UOW campus with local provenance. Approximately 50,000 trees and shrubs have been planted on campus since 1975. Many local native plants were unable to be purchased in the campuses first years, instead the UOW Landscape team created their own plant nursery. They collected local native plant seeds and began propagating seedlings.
Water awareness on campus
Water consumption reduction and reuse initiatives are a focus in UOW water management strategies. Australia suffers from long drought periods that have negative environmental, social and economic impacts. UOW operations include a range of activities that impact on the amount of water consumed including sports field maintenance, provision of food services, research and general campus use. A water education and awareness program is a key strategy in UOW’s Environmental Management Plan as the University is subject to dry periods that require awareness of efficient practices. UOW aims to achieve these aspirations by implementing a priority hierarchy that focuses on undertaking structural and behavioural changes to reduce demand for and manage the supply of energy, water and materials, to use renewable resources and recycle and then offset what cannot be reduced or eliminated.
Beyond mains water
PhD candidate Carrie Wilkinson is investigating the practices and experiences of households that are self-sufficient for water in regional NSW. She is investigating residents’ engagements with the materiality of non-mains water sources and infrastructure, namely the rainwater tank and rainwater. By taking seriously the vitality of rainwater and the infrastructure of rainwater tanks in domestic water relations we will better understand the vulnerabilities and adaptive capacities of households that are self-sufficient for water in a changing climate.
Smart water management
Over the past 50 years the Illawarra-Shoalhaven region has experienced many serious floods. The Illawarra-Shoalhaven Smart Water Management project uses smart technology solutions and data analytics to respond to stormwater management challenges affecting our communities. The project aims to help improve stormwater management, water quality, flood mitigation and information accessibility to ensure community safety in flash flood events. This is a regional collaboration between Federal Government, Wollongong City Council, Kiama Municipal Council, Shoalhaven City Council, Shellharbour City Council, and Lendlease. Currently servicing the Wollongong and Shoalhaven local government areas, this open-source platform provides a ‘hacking space’ for citizens, entrepreneurs, researchers and students to apply smart technologies in novel applications to resolve real-world challenges.
Water security in India
Water security is becoming a key issue both in India and Australia and this is being made more serious by climate change. Researchers from UOW are working with local experts in India to investigate coastal reservoirs as a sustainable strategy for water security through the Scheme for Promotion of Academic and Research Collaboration (SPARC). Coastal Reservoirs are a new and growing field of research to help combat the effects of water shortages. They can be used for water supply, flood mitigation, energy storage, even wastewater treatment to protect coastal environments. The scheme aims to improve the research ecosystem of India’s Higher Educational Institutions by facilitating academic and research collaborations between Indian Institutions and the best institutions in the world from 25 selected nations.
While human consumption of microplastics has not been thoroughly explored, it is known that many types of microplastics bind and accumulate highly toxic pollutants. This research seeks to assess the potential for bacteria or fungi to degrade these plastics, to find suitable candidate strains that may be used to reduce microplastic contamination.
SMART Water and Energy Group
The SMART Water and Energy research group is dedicated to creating innovative and sustainable solutions to protect our environment from contamination, develop waste to energy pathways and secure affordable and reliable zero-carbon electricity supply. Water & Bioresource Technologies research underpins protection of land and water resources from contamination, and fosters sustainable harnessing of bio-resources. Research areas include wastewater treatment, resource recovery from wastewater and the environmental impacts of mining. Energy & Resource Efficiency research investigates technical and economic aspects of electricity infrastructure and aims to devise a holistic framework for renewable energy resources. Research areas range from reliable and efficient electricity supply to hydrogen and syngas supply chains.
Smarter schools for a smarter planet
Smarter Schools for a Smarter Planet, aimed at enabling regional high school students studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics to gain skills in the construction and use of smart technologies to monitor water issues relevant to their school environment. Ten regional high schools have participated in the construction project where they also learn about the Internet of Things (IoT) technologies and the water management issues being analysed by these technologies.