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ASU students participate in hackathon centered around recycling

ASU and city of Phoenix team up to find new ways to reuse plastic waste

trash hacks

"What amazing things will be made at ASU's Trash hackathon?" Illustration published on Sunday, Oct. 1, 2017

Not all plastics are recyclable, and this poses challenges for a city’s materials recovery facilities, especially considering the fact that, in 2015, around 322 million tons of plastic are produced globally every year

The Resource Innovation and Solutions Network (RISN) Incubator hosted a new kind of hackathon called the Trash Hack at ASU's Tooker House from Sept. 29 to Oct. 1 to encourage students to get involved in addressing these challenges.  

The RISN Incubator was established as a partnership between the city of Phoenix and ASU’s Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives program to create a circular economy. 

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation describes a circular economy as regenerative and more efficient than linear economies which are built on a take, make and dispose model. The incubator is also meant to support the city's Reimagine Phoenix: Transforming Trash Into Resources initiative. 

“You inherited problems created by those who got rich from the industrial revolution,” Thomas Seager, Ph.D, professor at the ASU School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, told participants. “What are you going to do about it?”

Students came to participate in the hackathon to answer this key question. 

“I came to the hack to hear about solutions and to participate in finding solutions," Taciana Albuquerque, a junior majoring in chemical engineering, said. "It’s depressing to just think about the problem without doing anything."

Chemical engineering junior Taciana Albuquerque responds to questions presented at Trash Hack at Tooker House on the Tempe campus on Sunday, Sept 29, 2017.

ASU students from various disciplines formed teams to develop ideas for technology, products and services that reduce or reuse plastic waste. The teams developed their ideas and presented them to judges who advised them on how these ideas could be implemented.

“We wanted a way to get students involved," Alicia Marseille, director of the RISN Incubator, said. "They have great ideas.” 

She said the Trash Hack was not only a great way to discuss ways to repurpose discarded plastic, but it was also an useful outlet to find ways to educate consumers. 

The top team took home a 3D printer and the top three teams received a spot in RISN’s upcoming design challenge, where they will get more assistance and advice on how to turn their ideas into businesses.

Lucas Mariacher, a Zero Waste coordinator for the city of Phoenix, said the city stopped making a profit recycling #3-#7 plastics this year for the first time in 10 years because there is currently no market for these plastics. He said the city has around two million pounds of plastic it can not repurpose or sell. 

“We need your help to find solutions," Mariacher said. "The only thing we can do right now is bury it."

The teams’ ideas ranged from producing solid products, like rock climbing products or vertical farm enclosures, to creating an app that would connect people to companies looking to use discarded plastic to produce their products. 

“Traditional hacks are more based on programming," Veronica Head, a graduate student pursuing a master's degree in sustainable engineering, said. "As a sustainable engineer, I decided I wanted to put a spin on the idea to make it more applicable to sustainability."

Head worked with Marseille to organize the event and said she has always wanted to use her skills in math and science to change the world. 

Whether they were there to change the world or pursue entrepreneurial careers, the participants of the Trash Hack all contributed to establishing a circular economy. 

Reach the reporter at or follow @sonic_429 on Twitter. 

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