by
Jasmine Leonas

Students tackle upcycling, reducing waste streams in Cornerstone Design

Winning team used AI to better inform public on recycling practices
Cornerstone winning team Fall 2023

Earth has a waste problem. Processing materials, fuels and food contributes to up to half of greenhouse gas emissions – and recycling isn’t a perfect solution, either, requiring its own energy to re-process and break down materials, not to mention transportation and the re-manufacturing of goods.

Upcycling – the utilization of existing materials at end-of-service life to produce a new product, using less energy and polluting less than other disposal options – can be a better alternative, but what are some ways to incorporate the practice into our daily lives?

Students in the Fall 2023 Cornerstone Design Competition took on that challenge in teams, using creative thinking to come up with innovative ways to address the threats faced by excessive waste streams from single-use materials. The teams presented their final projects at an in-person poster pitch event on Dec. 7.

The winning team – which took home a $1,000 grand prize – was The Biodegradables. The team proposed RecyclAI, a generative AI chatbot and image recognition system that provides guidance on plastics recycling practices. The team’s initial prototype aimed to be quick, efficient, accessible, cost friendly and specifically trained to answer questions about recyclable plastics. Members of The Biodegradables were Elliot Cossins, Anastasia Sokol, Kate Rodgers, Sandra Juarez and Hayden Woodruff.

Second place and $500 went to The Trepidatious Team, which focused on creating a machine that could upcycle 3D printed objects into usable 3D print filament. Team members were Jack Betz, Jake Mumy, Holly Anderson, Sam Orgeldinger and Wyeth Summerford-Ng.

Third place and a prize of $250 went to The Battery Bunch, which looked for ways to repurpose the internal components in disposable vape pens to reduce their contribution to toxic and electrical waste. Team members were Nate Moore, Alyssia Mannie, Andrea Lee and Tristan Karinski.

The Subject Matters Experts Pick and $250 went to The Battery Bunch.

Required for all Mines undergraduates, Engineering, Design and Society’s Cornerstone Design I is a semester-long, hands-on, human-centered, open-ended design project course where student teams must investigate, define and solve their own challenge within a given topic or problem space. The final competition pits the top project idea from each of 30 class sections against each other.

“Cornerstone Design is a signature Mines undergraduate experience that provides students with the opportunity to apply STEM tools and skills to address a real-world, open-ended problem with a novel design validated through stakeholder engagement, research, prototype building and testing and analysis,” said Yosef Allam, director of Cornerstone Design. “Students engage with real people outside the classroom to ensure that they are addressing the needs of those experiencing the problem and receiving guidance from professionals and experts. The Cornerstone Design Competition is our favorite time of the semester as we, students, faculty and staff alike, all get to experience the culmination of our students’ design and problem-solving journeys.”

Jasmine Leonas headshot

Jasmine Leonas

Public Information Specialist
About Mines
Colorado School of Mines is a public research university focused on science and engineering, where students and faculty together address the great challenges society faces today - particularly those related to the Earth, energy and the environment.