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Students Come up with Ways to Reduce Waste for Bottling Giant Coca-Cola

By Keith Morelli

Students comparing bottling options

TAMPA (May 6, 2020) -- A competition to come up with ideas to help Coca-Cola reach its goal of being 100 percent recyclable by 2030 has paid off for some USF students who took home cash prizes and the chance of having their ideas used by the soft drink giant in this ambitious project. The winners’ suggestions included brightly colored recycling collection machines placed in high-foot-traffic areas and a broader approach that called for partnerships with other sustainability-focused organizations to increase recycling awareness.

"I don't think the benefits of these kinds of opportunities can be overstated,” said Sharon Hanna-West, who teaches sustainable businesses practices at the Muma College of Business. “Students get to work on real industry problems and gain insight on the challenges companies face while the industry gets the benefit of fresh, new ideas. It's a win-win for all."

Coca-Cola Beverages Florida awarded prizes to the top three contestants at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. The Sustain-A-Bull Challenge at USF was conducted in a virtual setting after the university was shut down indefinitely in March to stem the spread of COVID-19. The contest was open to USF graduate and undergraduate students with fresh, innovative ideas to help the soft-drink company achieve its “World Without Waste” recycling goals.

The challenge was spearheaded by Muma College of Business students Renata Gomes Martin and Takana Shimabukuro, who created the opportunity for students to work on real world solutions for the bottled beverage industry. It was co-hosted by the Muma College of Business and the Patel College of Global Sustainability. Students were able to participate in the challenge individually or in small teams up to four.

The winners, at the graduate level, were:

  • First Place ($1,000): Sarah Suhood, with the Morsani College of Medicine;
  • Second Place ($500): Nichole Peters, with the Patel College of Global Sustainability;
  • Third Place ($250 total): Oluwatosin Folorunso and Franklin Dureke, both with the Patel College of Global Sustainability.

In the undergraduate category, the winners were:

  • First Place ($1,000): Ami Chandarana, with the Muma College of Business;
  • Second Place ($500 total): Caroline Natassa Hansen and Doeries Nikita Hansen, with the Muma College of Business;
  • Third Place ($250 total): Ysarah Preval, with the College of Arts and Sciences; Oyindamola Teniola and Karon Washington, both with the College of Engineering.

Faculty members from the Muma College of Business and the Patel College of Global Sustainability conducted preliminary evaluations and judges from the industry decided the winners.

Ami Chandarana’s winning pitch, titled Coke Collects, suggested implementing a plan that would place Coca-Cola recycling collection machines at the beach or any public area with high foot traffic, “where consumers can insert and recycle their Coca-Cola plastic bottles and aluminum cans, whether found in that public area or brought there by the consumer.”

Sarah Suhood’s pitch admitted an established company like Coca-Cola would have a more difficult time adopting plans of change than newer companies that can implement such plans from the beginning. Her pitch suggested partnering with other companies that have established recycling practices, such as the Pop Tab for Ronald McDonald House. This and other partnerships, she said, can create a greater awareness of recycling and participation in recycling practices by the general public.

“Think about Coke's commitment to be 100 percent recyclable by 2030,” said Gomes Martins. “That is an amazing goal, especially when you consider the amount of material that it will encompass. And Coke is open to implementing some of these winning suggestions, beyond merely rewarding the contestants.”