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How Circular Innovation Helps Universities Achieve Their Sustainability Goals

As countries around the globe seek to shift towards a more sustainable existence, circularity in economies has become recognised as a way towards achieving that goal.

Universities are also trying to get in line and create more sustainable campuses while fostering the concepts of sustainability and circularity to achieve this.

The UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are fast becoming the main focus of many universities to prioritise sustainability. Circular Cities Asia (CCAsia) has identified this an opportunity to help build long term relationships between campuses, innovators and industry experts on this shared journey towards circularity and sustainability. CCAsia is now working with universities to help them achieve their goals by introducing circular innovation to the campuses.

Enter the Circular Campus Programme

Simply put, our Circular Campus Programme (CCP) supports universities in the Asia-Pacific region to advance circularity, innovation and sustainability on campus.

We utilise our expertise, access to leading experts in the field, and circular innovation framework to give universities an insight into the workings and principles of a circular economy. These resources aim to help universities design and determine a plan of action towards achieving their sustainability goals.

Along with the above, the CCP conducts an innovation competition, where students can compete and find circular solutions for resource waste problems on campus. To help students generate ideas, we ask the universities about their sustainability goals and challenges.

For our 2021 programme, the faculty liaisons outlined the following priority areas when it comes to sustainability on their campuses:

  • Waste management (solid, liquid and hazardous)

  • Water management

  • Energy (clean and efficient)

  • Mobility

  • Plastic pollution

  • Integrating sustainability in education

  • Pandemic response

The majority of the liaisons stated that their universities are working to align themselves with the UN's SDGs and implement long-term sustainability strategies, plans, and systems on campus. At the same time, many expressed that they wished to integrate sustainability into education, research and innovation, infrastructure and operations.

To help the students prepare their submissions for the circular innovation competition, we deliver webinars, innovation workshops and a toolkit focused on circular economy principles, problem identification and ideation. The students then apply what they learn and come up with circular solutions to problems they identified on campus.

Out of all of the submissions we received this year, ten teams were chosen as finalists to pitch their circular ideas for a chance to win a spot in our boot camp. The innovation competition finals for 2021 were held on October 27th. Five teams were chosen to participate in our boot camp, and from there two teams will be chosen by one of our sponsors, RENERGii Asia, to be incubated virtually with their venture studio! The two teams will also receive funding from The Incubation Network during their 3-month incubation.⁠

The big burning question posed to participating university teams was: How can university campuses transition to circular models and be the blueprint for liveable cities?

The solutions they came up with for their campuses were innovative and ingenious, and we're giving you a glimpse of them here:

The Problem of Plastics - Team Jamb from RMIT, Vietnam

One of the teams that competed in the innovation competition was team Jamb from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, Vietnam. The team identified an issue concerning plastic waste and waste from outdated and damaged products. From their research, they discovered that almost 15,000 plastic bottles are thrown away on campus every year and Vietnam is ranked 4th globally for ocean plastic pollution.

They also found that the broken, damaged and outdated products on campus end up in landfills, especially because spare parts are no longer available. Recycling efficiency is still very low in Vietnam, with only 10-20% of plastics being recycled (IFC & World Bank 2019). For every metric ton of waste from damaged products, 432,000 cubic feet of landfill gas will be produced daily (Hughes Enterprises 2021). These are potentially huge issues!

The team, consisting of students from different disciplines, came up with an innovative solution — Multi-PLA. Essentially, Vietnam's first on-demand fixing and printing station using 3D printing filaments made from plastic waste.

The station can be used to 3D print missing parts for repairs of many electronic items, using printing filaments made from plastic waste, and thus bringing in a circular solution for these problems. Since 3D printers are versatile, they can be used for purposes other than creating spare parts — students can also use them for inexpensive prototyping production.

The Problem of Solid Waste - Team Sustainnovators from BPSU, Philippines

The Sustainnovators, a team of engineers from Bataan Peninsula State University in the Philippines, decided to take on the issue of solid waste management and aimed to find a circular solution to it.

They identified the issue of solid waste not being recycled on campus. The mismanaged solid waste is a health risk, a contamination hazard, and a big challenge since the three landfills in the province are reaching max capacity. The team also realised that there is minimal student participation and no programmes in place to tackle this issue.

So they came up with the innovative idea of an app called Trashcoin. This app generates rewards for depositing your solid waste trash. Once the waste is deposited at designated collection points on campus, it is validated. A code is sent to claim a reward. Partner companies and organisations will then collect the solid waste to be recycled or remanufactured. This circular design will help ensure that the waste is properly segregated and recycled.

The Problem of Food Waste - Team DURT from JKLU, India

Team DURT from JK Lakshmipat University, India tackled the issue of food waste. The team identified a lot of food wastage, as many students didn't show up to eat their meals, or the canteens served too much and the excess food was thrown out. They discovered that approximately 40-80kgs of food is being thrown away or wasted every day.

The team consists of computer science students, who came up with an idea for an app for universities that would alert the food services department a few hours before preparation time, with the approximate number of students coming for meals.

Another part of their solution is to partner with NGOs. The latter could help redistribute the cooked, untouched food to nearby underprivileged houses. They are also looking into composting the food waste to make the whole system truly circular.

The Problem of Paper Waste - Team PaperSquad from JKLU, India

Team PaperSquad from JK Lakshmipat University, India, identified a massive problem in the area of paper waste. They found there is a massive amount of paper waste generated by universities. This includes printed sheets, newspapers, project sheets and packaging cardboard. Most of it ends up in landfills since only 20% is recycled.

The team looked for a circular solution to collect the used paper on campus and upcycle them, preventing it from going to the landfill. Their solution is to make higher-value paper products from the paper waste. They’ll process the used paper with used rice water (as a binder) to create products such as decorative items, dustbins and deity sculptures. Once these items have come to the end of their lifespans, they can be broken down to be remanufactured or composted, as the products are biodegradable.

The Problem of Other Biodegradable Waste - Team BIOcompoSIX from BPSU, Philippines

Another innovative team from Bataan Peninsula State University in the Philippines is BIOcompoSIX. They looked at the issue of abundant biodegradable waste (e.g. used paper and dried leaves and grass) and the improper management of it. They found that the biodegradable waste was burned or when left, clogged drainage systems. This often leads to flooding on campus, due to the lack of a proper system to dispose of leaves, grass and used papers.

The solution the team came up with is a simple yet effective one. Their idea is to collect the biodegradable waste at designated collection points, sort it, and turn it into higher-value products, such as biocomposite materials, using a processing technology they are developing. They can then use this biocomposite material to make products, such as plates, cups, boards, and cutlery as biodegradable alternatives to plastic service ware.

We can't wait to see what these innovative teams achieve in the future, and we at CCAsia will be keeping a close eye on their progress.

More involvement is needed. This is where you come in!

What is the next step for you? If our Circular Campus Programme sounds like something your university would like to be involved in and offer to your students, check out our programme page. You can then get in touch with us for more information.

By offering your students the chance to participate in a circular innovation competition, you provide them with a fantastic opportunity to be at the forefront of innovation and change towards a circular economy.

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