KPU Students Develop Clean Composting Technology

Through KPU’s Challenge Dialogue program, Alisa Yao and her team hope to revolutionize composting in multi-residential units


(Left to right) KPU students Eyshr Sahota, Alisa Yao, KPU graduate Megan Davidson, and KPU student Harry Chai. (Submitted)

A group of KPU students have designed a product that has the potential to raise the rate of composting in Surrey.

With the help of the City of Surrey, the group has spent over a year researching and developing a solution for issues preventing composting in multi-residential buildings. They are now in the process of turning their idea into a business plan.

“The issue is, ‘How do we engage people to recycle and compost properly?’” says fourth year KPU product design student Alisa Yao.

Yao—along with her peers Eyshr Sahota, Harry Chai, and environment protection technology graduate Megan Davidson—were selected in September 2015 to take part in KPU’s Challenge Dialogue program, which gives students the opportunity to work with the municipal government to develop clean technology.

Yao is currently unable to disclose any details about the product that she and her team have designed, as they are still in the process of acquiring a patent. However, she does confirm that the business model focuses on removing barriers to composting, increasing awareness of how to compost, and collecting relevant data.

The group conducted research throughout the early stages of the project, and spoke to stakeholders to identify an issue that they could address. After shadowing Surrey waste collectors and speaking with people in the zero waste industry, they learned that there were issues with the system of separating out compost from non-organic waste in apartment buildings and other communal living spaces.

“In the zero waste industry, there is a lot of discussion about how to tackle the issue of composting in any area that is communal,” says Yao. “[ln communal organics bins] there is a lot of contamination. People throw things in the wrong bins and it just ends up causing more problems.”

Yao explains that, with single family homes, issues with contamination in compost bins are rare because the problem can usually be traced to the family that owns the bin. In multi-residential buildings, as well as quick service restaurants and public street bins, non-organic material regularly gets thrown into organics bins. There isn’t much that can be done to deter that behavior.

According to Yao, the process of re-sorting the various types of waste can be more expensive than having only one bin for compostable and non-compostable materials.

After the initial research phase, Yao and her team came up with a solution that they believe will help mitigate this problem. They pitched their idea to the City of Surrey, which accepted the pitch and chose a residential building in Surrey for Yao’s team to use for a pilot project.

They began by holding information sessions in the building’s lobby and handing out information packages to explain the purpose of the project. Yao says that the residents of the building were on board almost immediately.

“We explained our case, why we should compost, [and] what’s going on with the current compost system. Pretty much everyone has been on board,” says Yao. “I think everyone has good intentions to want to compost and want to be sustainable.”

The next step was to conduct a compost audit to see the level of contamination in the building’s bins before implementing their solutions. Briefly before the pilot was concluded, a final audit was conducted to show its end results in December 2016.

Yao says that the pilot was a massive success. Over the past year, the group has been working with organizations in the clean technology industry to plan the next phase and develop their plan into a business.