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On 18 January, students will kick off the ReThink Waste Challenge, an international student competition looking for the next step towards a sustainable world without waste organized by Wageningen University & Research. The competing student teams will come up with their own business idea or prototype for a technology that will reduce or reuse waste, create reusable materials, and contributes to a sustainable future.
Harm ten Napel/Wageningen University & Research

Any waste is loss. For the future of our planet, we can’t afford to lose much more. That is why new WUR Student Challenge focusses on creating a world in which resources are reused and reusable: a circular, biobased economy. This year nearly 200 students from 72 universities in 33 countries joined the ReThink Waste Challenge to come up with new solutions. To compete, each team will look to reclaim natural resources out of by-products or waste streams, for example, to propose new, reusable alternative materials. Important is to present these as a viable business venture. They stand to win up to € 6.000 and the chance to fully develop their idea.

Biobased textiles or sustainable asphalt

What kind of solutions are the students challenged to devise? Well, think for example of the heavy use of polyester in the fashion industry, which depends a non-renewable resource: oil. Like Senior Scientist Sustainable Textiles Paulien Harmsen of Wageningen Food & Biobased Research, students might strive to prototype textiles based on renewable plant fibres. They might also create a business plan to make an existing alternative textile financially viable.

Students might also look to research at Wageningen University & Research or successful start-ups. There are possibilities everywhere, from a sustainable ingredient for asphalt to a soda made from the fruit pulp that is discarded by the chocolate industry. The competing teams could draw inspirations from the research into alternatives for polyacrylates, an ingredient made from petroleum that is used in anything from diapers to paints. Researchers are drawing alternative ingredients from beet pulp to replace the polyacrylates in dishwasher tablets. A great example of circular, biobased research.

Support from Industry Experts

Students are not alone in their quest for the winning solution. More than twenty leading companies in industries such as agri-food, construction work, engineering consultancy, packaging and waste treatment are there to help them and will introduce themselves at the Kick-off Event. In addition participants will listen to a lecture by Larissa van der Feen, Circular Economy Associate at WBCSD on sustainable business practices. Tomas Turner, the co-founder of the start-up, will introduce the students to the ReThink Waste Challenge as the start of an entrepreneurial journey. Cultivated won the 2021 edition of the ReThink Protein Challenge, so Turner can speak from experience.

During the coming month, the teams will work towards the first selection moment at the end of February. The teams that make it through, will work to refine their concept, hoping to secure a place in the Grand Finals. They will participate in two Sprint Days and receive support from expert coaches, who work for industry leaders and innovative start-ups. This new assembly of students, from all over the world, is on their way to learn from the best and show how they wish to change the future.

For more information, visit the ReThink Waste Challenge website.

Image above: impression of participants’ origins, by Anna Celli