Text: R. Collins
For the student participants of a yearly international design competition, hosted in Grand Rapids, Michigan, saving the world is taken very, very seriously. Since its launch in 2013, the Wege Prize has hosted collegiate teams from all over the world in a competition to create innovative, implementable approaches to designing a circular economy. Solutions like products, services, and business models seek to address existing systematic issues, while powering a transition from disposable, linear economic models into circular, regenerative ones.
Last year’s competition winners, comprising students from the United States, Ghana, and Costa Rica, developed organic fertilizers, bio-soaps, and animal feeds by upcycling cocoa pod husks—the goal being to create a zero-waste cocoa bean production process. In 2018, the winning group of students from Mexico City addressed fair, regenerative tourism systems by creating an online platform that will offer indigenous-run, community-based co-ops the tools they need to overcome obstacles in the ecotourism market, all while helping travelers have authentic, environmentally considerate experiences.
The Wege Prize is developed by the Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University, or KCAD, with support of The Wege Foundation, and is open to undergraduate, graduate, and post-graduate students in a variety of disciplines worldwide. This Friday, May 29, the final phase of the Wege Prize’s 2020 edition is going virtual in a live streamed competition between five finalist teams for more than $30,000 U.S. dollars in cash prizes.
“Creativity and collaboration are absolutely essential to both addressing the many complex challenges we face today and rising to meet those that await us in the future,” said Tara McCrackin, interim president of KCAD, in a press release. “That’s why what happens in Wege Prize each year is so important. We need to empower young people from every corner of our planet through these kinds of immersive, real-world experiences so that they can become the leaders and change agents we so desperately need.”
This year’s finalists include students from Ghana, Uganda, the United States, Costa Rica, Netherlands, Kenya, and Canada. Two teams will address food-related concerns; one being unused foods from campus dining services—which the team would convert into packaged meals or on-site compost material—and the other addressing single-use plastic cutlery, mitigated by blending hyacinth fibers and cassava starch into biodegradable plates, cups, and silverware.
Two more teams tackle issues of waste. One converts Ghana’s abundance of pineapple waste into biochar and compost that is used to increase soil fertility and eliminate environmental pollution from previous waste processes, and another team converts waste from urban restaurants and residences into affordable, environmentally friendly fertilizer for rural farmers. A fifth team zaps excess chlorophyll that dilutes the quality of Canada’s canola oil output by repurposing it into an anti-fungal treatment that plagues the same canola crops.
Regardless of their locale, industry, or solution, Wege Prize participants arrive to the competition having turned over unseen solutions for regenerating our daily processes. To check out the livestreamed final phase of the competition, visit the homepage of wegeprize.org at 10:00 a.m. EDT on May 29th, and note the Facebook Event page here.
Featured image: NOREANA GROUP – finalist award 2019
Photography: Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University