The UTS Wealth from Waste Living Lab is an interdisciplinary design lab for third year design students, run by Dr. Dena Fam and Dr. Alexandra Crosby. The Lab gives these students a practice-based learning experience in designing ways to increase food capture rates and reduce contamination rates – whether that be in the design of communication tools, new bins, instructions or fun events to inform staff and students.
For the UTS on-site food waste management system to work effectively, food waste needs to be separated from contaminants such as plastic, paper and metal. This requires students and staff to change their habits and purposefully place food waste in separate bins. With contamination rates in some areas of the university remaining high, the idea of a UTS Living Lab emerged through collaboration between the Institute for Sustainable Futures, the Design School, UTS Facilities and the NSW EPA.
The Living Lab is part of a core subject embedded within the design degree. Many students choose the Living Lab option because of their commitment to sustainability. Students who completed the lab in 2016 have shared their experience on how the course has shaped their understanding of what a professional designer does, can do, and should do. Many of them have sought positions within companies and charities that are committed to sustainability.
The unique on-campus learning experience has contributed valuable knowledge on how food waste might be more efficiently collected and managed at UTS, with facilities management and cleaning staff providing knowledge, first hand experience, guided tours of campus waste facilities as well as involvement in evaluating the viability of final student’s design concepts for improving the waste system on-campus.
Project partners (technology providers, the NSW EPA and local council staff) have been involved in half-day expert panels and Q&A sessions with students and a final review and feedback session with students.
Some of the ideas generated in the Living Lab are being implemented across the university. This includes visual communication tools and strategies for reducing food waste within the student population, in particular a food waste app designed by an exchange student from Germany to help international students reduce food waste in local student housing.
Students enrolled in the Living Lab completed a 24 hour self audit of the food waste they produce. Their waste audit was visualised through photographs, drawings and written reflection.
They also conducted an audit of food served at the launch of the book co-edited by the Living Lab's coordinator Dr Dena Fam: Transdisciplinary Research and Practice for Sustainability Outcomes.
Benchtop kitchen caddies
The NSW EPA has been closely involved with the Living Lab and UTS food waste management project. It also funded a competition for the Living Lab students to design a newspaper liner for kitchen caddies (kitchen benchtop containers for food waste).
The number of local government food and garden household collection systems is increasing rapidly with over 25 councils currently in NSW and at least 8 more due to start food and garden waste collection by 2019. Benchtop kitchen caddies are a visual reminder to recycle food scraps but also a useful tool to collect the scraps ready for disposal in outside bins. The ‘Yuck’ factor of food scraps and cleaning kitchen caddies can be a barrier. Councils promote ‘nude’ food scraps, food scraps wrapped in newspaper or compostable cornstarch liner bags. Since cornstarch bags can be expensive and difficult to distinguish from plastic bags that aren’t compostable, newspaper liners or wraps are a good solution. The caddy liner competition created innovative but easy to use solutions with clear instructions for residents. The NSW EPA intends to promote these resources to councils. Councils may choose to use them locally to help encourage increased food waste recycling.
The students formed four groups and created videos and instructions for their benchtop kitchen caddies.
Group 1: Green Tea Leaves
Students: Daisy Pack, Jiawen Li, Szu-Ju (Tenya) Chen, Tegan Kearney, Timothy Loo, Kushan (Gladys) Yan
Group 2: Cloud Nine
Students: Luisa Roccisano, Dannielle White, Ang Zhao, Mikaela Rundle, Luca Nisi
Group 3: Bin-Go
Students: Sarah-Marie Alimangohan, Rohan Gandotra,Thomas Kelly, Tiffany Wong, Sam Haber, Felix Frech
Students: Sabrina Wibowo, Stuart McManis, Holly Parker, Georgina Deacon
In the two years that the Living Lab has been running feedback from the students shows how the course has changed their perception of waste and what can be done to manage food waste more sustainably. It provides a model to facilitate sustainable design projects on campus and in the process support students to take on environmental challenges and feel as though they have a chance to make a difference within their own community – both within the university and beyond. More broadly, this project raises awareness of food waste and food avoidance within the student population and in the process contributes to changing food waste habits.