Prof. Godfrey, Principal Scientist: Waste and Circular Economy Manager – CSIR

By Raine St.Claire

On October 30, 2023, UNEP announced CSIR as a 2023 Champion of the Earth, specifically in the Science and Innovation category. It is an acknowledgment of groundbreaking work pushing the boundaries of human knowledge and technology for positive impacts on the environment. This recognition, awarded following a public nomination process and global jury evaluation, signifies the CSIR’s standout performance among over 2500 nominations. CSIR’s pivotal role in advancing plastic research is evident through its comprehensive approach, encompassing innovative technologies, evidence of South Africa’s response to managing plastic waste, and the development of high-value end-use markets for a circular plastics economy. Professor Linda Godfrey emphasises, “We want to keep plastic out of the environment.” The Champions of the Earth award validates CSIR’s commitment to innovation and the calibre of its researchers.

Prof. Godfrey has actively engaged in waste and circular economy initiatives at various levels, collaborating with esteemed organisations such as the United Nations, European Union, and South African Government Departments. Currently leading the Waste RDI Roadmap Implementation Unit for the Department of Science and Technology, her research focuses on the waste sector’s role in South Africa’s green economy transition, waste innovation, economics, governance, and social and behavioural aspects of integrated waste management.

Currently leading the Waste RDI Roadmap Implementation Unit for the Department of Science and Technology, her research focuses on the waste sector’s role in South Africa’s green economy transition, waste innovation, economics, governance, and social and behavioural aspects of integrated waste management. Prof. Godfrey has provided strategic input for various waste and green economy initiatives, collaborating with international organisations and contributing extensively to publications in the field. With over 125 research reports, 25 conference papers, 12 journal papers, and five book chapters, her expertise is sought globally, making her a distinguished speaker at numerous scientific events.

These insightful words were shared at the South African Research Chairs Initiative (SARChI) in August 2018, a collaboration between the National Research Foundation (NRF), CSIR, and the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI). Prof. Godfrey sees the appointment back in 2018 of two women to research chair positions as recognition of a positive step forward for the industry. “It is also opportune that these two new chairs are being launched in August, Women’s Month – a celebration of women who have been instrumental in rewriting South Africa’s story.” She sees this as a chance to influence the waste sector positively, with two highly capable and respected women at the helm.

Fast forward to 2024, and the diligent efforts of Prof. Godfrey, managing the CSIR Waste RDI Roadmap Implementation Unit, have culminated in a remarkable achievement. CSIR has been honoured as one of the 2023 United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Champions of the Earth for its significant contribution to combatting plastic pollution. “It is a phenomenal achievement of the CSIR’s contribution to the fight against plastic pollution.” This prestigious award is the highest environmental recognition bestowed by the UN.

The launch of the CSIR’s #SolvePlasticsAfrica Hub in November 2022 is significant. This online hub showcases CSIR’s capabilities in providing evidencebased solutions to address plastic pollution in Africa. Prof. Godfrey expresses the organisation’s intent to collaborate with public and private sector organisations across the continent to unlock opportunities and inform decision-making.

Adding to CSIR’s unique capabilities, it hosts Africa’s sole laboratory equipped to test and verify products promoted as biodegradable. Prof. Godfrey underlines the significance, stating, “It is critical to drive an evidence-based approach to plastics management.” The UNIDO-funded testing laboratory determines biodegradation conditions and timeframes under various scenarios, including aerobic (compost, soil, freshwater, and marine) and anaerobic conditions.

In a strategic move, CSIR is developing environmentally sustainable materials to replace single-use plastics that aren’t recycled. Prof. Godfrey explains, “We’re striving to create products that are both environmentally friendly and practical.” These products are partially made from local biomass resources, such as starch and cellulose. In addition to its plastic-related research, CSIR hosts the Waste Research, Development and Innovation (RDI) Roadmap Implementation Unit on behalf of the DSI. This unit actively supports the national system of innovation in undertaking relevant waste plastic-related research.

Prof. Godfrey, as the manager of the CSIR Waste RDI Roadmap Implementation Unit, underscores the critical role of partnerships in effectively managing waste in South Africa. She concludes, “We must support businesses in adopting sustainable practices and driving a circular plastics economy, where waste is designed out and value is recovered.” Her concluding remarks encapsulate the vision for a sustainable and responsible future in waste management.


The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in South Africa employs cutting-edge technology and conducts multidisciplinary research to develop innovative solutions for addressing plastic pollution and various other challenges. A recent study reveals a concerning trend – consumers often overlook almost one-sixth of the globally generated electronic waste, totaling nearly 9-billion kilograms annually These items, deemed “invisible e-waste,” encompass cables, e-toys, e-cigarettes, e-bikes, power tools, smoke detectors, USB sticks, wearable health devices, and smart home gadgets.

The magnitude of the plastic issue is evident as humanity produces a staggering 430-million tonnes of plastic each year, with two-thirds of it swiftly turning into waste. Compounding the problem, up to 23-million tonnes of plastic waste infiltrate aquatic ecosystems annually, contaminating lakes, rivers, and seas. Alarming projections suggest that by 2040, carbon emissions linked to the production, use, and disposal of conventional fossil fuel-based plastics could contribute to nearly one-fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions, aligning with the most ambitious targets of the Paris climate change agreement.

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