Wege Prize announces finalists: student innovators tackling pressing global problems

Wege Prize, an annual competition that ignites game-changing solutions for the future by inspiring college/university students around the world to collaborate across institutional, disciplinary, and cultural boundaries to redesign the way economies work, has revealed the teams that have been selected to participate in the 2019 competition. Participants will contend for over $30,000 (USD) in cash prizes, while helping to show what the future of problem solving looks like.

Wege Prize teams must comprise five members enrolled full-time in an undergraduate or graduate level degree program. Teams must also represent at least two different academic institutions and at least three different academic disciplines. Each team must leverage its diversity of perspective and expertise to collaboratively design and propose a product, service, business/nonprofit organization, or other solution to a “wicked” problem—a complex, layered problem such as environmental degradation or homelessness—that can help power the transition from a linear economic model to a circular economy. A circular economy is one that is restorative by design and aims to constantly keep products, components, and materials at their highest utility and value.

Over the course of the multiphase competition, teams will develop their ideas from a research plan to a fully-prototyped and implementable solution, guided along the way by direct feedback from the Wege Prize judges, a diverse and accomplished group of professionals whose collective expertise spans the circular economy, sustainable business, green chemistry, industrial design, UX/UI design, digital fabrication, biomimicry, public policy, education, and more.

Past Wege Prize winners have developed a sustainable, circular online tourism platform for indigenous communities in Mexico, converted organic waste from food/beverage processing plants into insect protein-based animal feed and agricultural fertilizer, and created an on-site waste treatment system for hospitals that minimizes environmental impact while maximizing the potential for resource recovery, among many other innovative solutions.

The nine teams chosen represent 14 countries (by citizenship), 21 academic institutions, and 40 academic disciplines. Two of the teams have a local connection; they are:

AQUA MUNDA - representing the United States. Grand Valley State University, Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University students in Architecture, Collaborative Design, Graphic Design, Industrial Design, Marketing and Entrepreneurship will work on addressing the contamination of potable water sources by per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS).

CONSIDERED FURNITURE - representing Canada and the United States. Students from Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University and the University of Toronto will work on addressing waste in the furniture industry by exploring the reuse otential for furniture that has reached the end of its life cycle. The students represent  Architecture, Biology, Collaborative Design, Furniture Design.

Additional teams include: Students from China, Iran, Iraq, Malaysia, Pakistan are working on developing a circular energy distribution system that can intelligently balance demand and supply; students from China  will work on developing a framework for assessing the effectiveness of China’s 2008 “Circular Economy Promotion Law,” especially as it relates to scalability in urban areas; students from several schools in Ghana will be addressing the persistent problem of plastic waste, one of Ghana’s largest waste streams, by exploring the potential for upcycling/reuse; students from Gabon Ivory Coast, and Togo (who are learning at Northland College and Michigan State University, among other universities including South Korea) will address the problem of food waste by upcycling food waste into other useful products/commodities; students from Taiwan’s National Taiwan University will work n exploring opportunities for disassembly/materials recovery within existing second-hand retail markets; students from Nigeria (including some at Wellesley College and Wyoming University in the U.S.) will explore the reuse/upcycling potential of the organic waste generated in cocoa production to create bio-soap, animal feed, and other useful product; and students from Uganda’s Makerere University will be exploring the potential of grey water reuse and plastic waste reuse in Uganda.

To learn more, go to wegeprize.org.

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