Student hackathon works to reduce waste

14 Aug, 2019
Student hackathon works to reduce waste

Last month nine Engineering, Business and Industrial Design students were given a unique opportunity to take part in a sponsored Hackathon at City Campus.

The eight hour event was made possible through AUT's membership with the Sustainable Business Network (SBN) and the University's relationship with Fuji Xerox. The students, working in interdisciplinary teams, investigated options to reduce waste generated by the Fuji Xerox packaging value chain from Polystyrene, Low Density Polyethylene (LDPE) and Paper Wrappers.

Utilising business, engineering and industrial design skills, the teams examined how these packaging issues could provide a whole new value network encompassing small and large scale uses for specific packaging materials to enhance a circular economy.

The hackathon was led by Dr Jeff Seadon, School of Engineering, Computer and Mathematical Sciences, who said the students came up with some unexpected ideas.

"One team suggested that by taking the printer paper wrappers and exposing them to some essential oils, the plastic coating on the outside dissolves and you can just treat it like normal paper. They also suggested extracting the plastic out of the oil to use it again. That's something a little bit different than we expected."

The majority of the students were clear about their reasons for taking part, and key among them was a concern for the environment. Undergraduate student Ben Cooper's reason was a sentiment shared by many:

"The environment is a priority of mine, being able to have input into environmental governance at a corporate level is an important opportunity."

PhD student Purushothaman Mahesh Babu said the most surprising thing he learnt from the Hackathon is that putting "plastics though reused/recycled is just passing the buck to the next generation."

Emma Harding, Risk & Compliance Manager - Sustainability & Circular Economy at Fuji Xerox said AUT and Fuji Xerox have quite a bit of history, and the idea for the Hackathon stemmed from this ongoing relationship.

"AUT is a customer of Fuji Xerox and we have been fortunate to sign up to their graduate programme and have a few AUT students on Cooperative placement who find a role after their placement at Fuji Xerox (including myself). We have also worked with AUT to help them on their own sustainability journey through providing them with solutions that prevent paper wastage and recycle their waste toner cartridges through our Minister for the Environment Accredited Product Stewardship Scheme," Emma said.

"Now that the hackathon is over, we are looking forward to receiving the report and see what opportunities will be presented. If there is a viable solution, we can start the conversation with other companies facing similar challenges and investigate the feasibility of working together to implement the solution," she added.

Based on initial feedback, not only did the Hackathon result in AUT meeting a number of the indicators of positive change detailed in the Sustainability Roadmap, the ideas generated will also address some of the goals in AUT's Learning and Teaching Roadmap.

"This is a wonderful example of the kind of exceptional learning experiences, here at AUT – students from a range of disciplines working collaboratively with each other, working with an industry client to tackle an issue of social and environmental significance. In sum, authentic, relevant and impactful," said Professor Gayle Morris, Pro Vice Chancellor-Learning and Teaching.

The next step will see a report from the hackathon analysed by Fuji Xerox who will determine if any of the ideas suggested have potential for further development.

What is a hackathon?

A portmanteau of the words "hack" and "marathon", a hackathon is a design sprint-like event in which computer programmers and others involved in software development, collaborate intensively on software projects.

The goal is to create usable software or hardware with the goal of creating a functioning product by the end of the event.