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Waste Equals Food for Prize-winning New Venture

By Adelheid Fischer

When David Anaya graduated in 2011 with a B.S. in engineering, he says, "I was like many grads. I didn’t know what to do with myself." But Anaya had a hunch. During his senior year in InnovationSpace, a transdisciplinary product-development program at ASU, he helped his team create a product concept for recycling e-waste. In the process of researching the subject of garbage, "I became passionate about waste," Anaya says.

Since graduation, Anaya has completed two internships with the City of Phoenix Public Works Department, "refining my knowledge about our solid waste streams," he says. At the same time, he began pursuing a graduate degree at ASU's School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment. In 2013 he joined the nonprofit Keep Phoenix Beautiful. Housed in City Hall and funded by public works, the organization promotes recycling and waste reduction in the valley. Anaya serves as manager of a special project called PHX Renews, which seeks to revitalize 15 acres of vacant land in the heart of central Phoenix through developments such as urban agriculture and community gardens. It is the largest project of its kind in the nation.

In spring 2014 Anaya will complete his master's degree. But he won't be idle for long. In the course of his research for his degree, Anaya created a sideline enterprise, the Philyra Paper Company, which diverts palm tree trimmings from landfills and uses their high-quality fibers in manufacturing paper and packaging. In recognition of this achievement, Anaya, along with fellow engineering graduate student Sam Johnson, were awarded the $10,000 grand prize in the 2014 Innovation Challenge. This ASU competition supports promising student-generated products and services that address big societal challenges. Their venture already has been adopted by the City of Phoenix in its goals for waste diversion.

"It's now time to work even harder and put in longer hours to truly make this a success," Anaya says.

InnovationSpace is a joint venture among the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and the W.P. Carey School of Business.