Sustainability Meets Innovation At Make-A-Thon

Brian Wu and Lexi Chadwick were a part of the winning team for their idea of a zero waste grocery store.

Busy college students tend to eat on the go, but what if they had a campus grocery store with healthy, fresh options where they could buy only what they need instead of pre-packaged portions?

Pack ‘N’ Bulk, the grand prize winner of the fifth annual NC State Make-A-Thon, is a concept for a zero-packaging healthy grocery store on campus. Students Brian Wu, Trystan Meyer, Lexi Chadwick and Jena Keesee spent their weekend designing a prototype of the store’s design, as well as food dispenser that would allow students to fill reusable containers with the portions they want.

“Pack ‘N’ Bulk is a zero-waste source for students on campus to buy only what they need, saving money and resources,” said Chadwick, a senior in the College of Education. “It can solve the lack of access to fresh food for students.”

Innovation in a Weekend

Make-A-Thon is an annual challenge in which student teams compete to create and prototype a solution to a sustainability challenge either on campus, in the community or on a global scale. This year, the Jan. 24-26 event brought together 163 students on 44 interdisciplinary teams representing 10 of the university’s colleges. 

Student teams spent the weekend researching, designing and prototyping their sustainability solutions. With sponsorship from Autodesk and several campus departments, the students competed for more than $4,000 in cash and prizes.

On the final day of the competition — less than 48 hours after Make-A-Thon began — nearly 30 judges representing industry and campus partnerships listened to pitches from student teams and selected winners.

Sustainable Solutions

Students Zafar Ahsan and Alon Greyber work on their food waste forecasting idea which won third place.

Student teams presented ideas at the Make-A-Thon finale ranging from converting radio waves from cell phone towers into energy to a phone app that ranks consumer brands based on sustainable practices. Other student prototypes included a more ergonomic tool for firefighters tackling wildfires, fish ladders for culvert drainage systems, and barcode systems to sort waste from recycling.

This year’s Make-A-Thon was sponsored by Autodesk, NC State Entrepreneurship, NC State University Libraries, Division of Academic and Student Affairs and Paradigm. It was hosted by the Engineering Village, EcoVillage, Albright Entrepreneurs Village and University Sustainability Office.

Many student teams are seeking ways to take their projects to the next level. Some projects could become actual products if students pursue opportunities such as the NC State Sustainability Fund and the Lulu eGames startup competition.

The Winners

  • Grand Prize: Pack ‘N’ Bulk, a zero-packaging, zero-waste food store for students.
  • Second Place: An in-home extruder and grinder that recycles and repurposes plastic by converting it to plastic filament.
  • Third Place: Forecasting software for dining halls that generates data about how quickly each food item is consumed so that food waste can be avoided. 
  • Fusion360 Prize: A waste sorting experience that aids consumers in properly disposing waste