Jan. 17, 2018

Tiered trash the engineering answer to workspace waste

Schulich School of Engineering undergrads design compact trash can for modern desk

It’s the detritus dilemma of the modern, environmentally conscious office worker: how to manage recycling, organics and trash from the cramped confines of a desk.

For a team of Schulich School of Engineering undergrads asked to solve a social concern of their choice, it was a matter of re-engineering the lowly wastebasket into something capable of holding and separating everything from banana peels and coffee cups to recycled reports and napkins.

Their answer, simple as it appears, may provide exactly what a green-friendly desk jockey needs — and the ingenious three-tiered trash can earned the trio of inventors first place in an annual competition that involves students taking the mandatory course, ENGG 481 Technology and Society, at the University of Calgary.

“We actually thought our idea was probably too simple, and because of that we wouldn’t do well, but simplicity was probably the main reason we won,” says Murray Bondy, a mechanical engineering student.

  • Photo below:  Engineering students Rebecca Dukart, Michael Assié and Murray Bondy decided the common waste basket was no longer up to the task of handling multiple streams of trash, so they designed a better one. 


Engineering students Rebecca Dukart, Michael Assié and Murray Bondy decided the common waste basket was no longer up to the task of handling multiple streams of trash, so they designed a better one. Schulich School of Engineering photo

Engineering students designed a better waste basket that can handle multiple streams of trash.

Schulich School of Engineering photo

Change the world, instructor asks class

Tackling a social concern through engineering is the goal of the class, where student teams identify a real-world problem and then engineer a solution, with the final project judged by a panel of experts.

“The first sentences I say whenever I teach this class is ‘You are all amazing. And you are going to prove that in this class,’” explains instructor Sandy Chang.

“The students have done exactly that throughout the semester with their innovative ideas to make the world a better place, from waste disposal, pollution elimination, pet adoption, helping disabled people, among many others. These students truly give us hope for the future, a much-needed reminder in this time of social distress.”

A creative crop of potential

This year’s creative crop included the Fall Star, a Bluetooth-linked accelerometer that alerts caregivers the moment a patient falls over, and Fetch, an app which links adopters to the perfect pet, based on a user profile and wide-ranging search of rescue agencies.

But it was "The Solut1on" that took December’s top prize, that being the name Bondy and his teammates — civil engineering student Rebecca Dukart and mechanical engineering student Michael Assié — gave the three-sectioned waste bin.

“Our focus was office space, whether an office desk or home desk, and finding a way to sort waste with limited room for a receptacle,” explains Dukart.

With the finalists facing a panel of judges that included representatives from Innovate Calgary and the Hunter Centre, the trio showed how a regular waste bin can be converted to a three-tier system using two smaller bins that hang on the sides of the main bin, giving room for recycling, compost and landfill garbage.

“The problem was that most desks have only one bin for space reasons, and so landfill waste, recyclable waste and compost waste was all thrown into that same bin,” says Assié. “You’re often too busy to get up and throw things in the proper bin.”

City bylaws call for office recycling and compost

With city bylaws like that in Calgary now mandating compost be separated, the invention is an affordable solution — the team has spoken to a manufacturer, and a final version is estimated to run $30 retail, or $10 per bin section — to a universal problem. Placing first means The Solut1on now has a chance to work with Innovate Calgary, to see if their idea can become a marketable reality, and product testing among university grad students has proven very positive so far.

“The grad students tried it for a week, and they loved it,” says Dukart.