An app engineered by University of Guelph computing students to reuse food waste placed second at the ElleHacks competition last month. 

The international competition is described as “the largest hackathon created for women and non-binary individuals of all experience levels.” 

The U of G team won the Bell Award for Using Technology to Support Environmental Sustainable Decision-Making. 

The three-day event challenges students with STEM backgrounds to collaborate, learn, compete and show off their skills to solve real-life problems in an inclusive and safe space. This year, 25 teams from among 150 participants won awards. 

“ElleHacks has given us so many amazing memories. It has given us a platform where we can bring our ideas into reality and work with other great women in STEM who come from various skill levels, backgrounds, programs, years of studies and disciplines,” said Ananya Thukral, a fifth-year student who helped develop this year’s project. 

Award-winning project tackles food waste 

U of G students Thukral and Prabhleen Ratra and their non-U of G teammates, Shin Wah Low and Judy Ham, developed Food Cycling. The app allows people to “creatively use every bit of the food” by suggesting recipes, beauty projects and planting tips so that no part of the food goes to waste.  

The app also provides information when that product is scanned, alerting users about inedible parts of the product or allergy risks. Users can also earn points by purchasing suggested products and interacting with other users and then redeem those points at grocery stores.  

“We believe in sustainable community building and so our app provides people with a platform to share their creations,” said Ratra, who graduated in December 2021. 

The team hopes the app will become available through app stores; they also aim to work with grocery stores and food delivery apps to raise funds and gain user insights.  

Events like ElleHacks important for women in STEM 

Despite coming across challenges, the team is happy and proud of their project and what they learned, said Thukral.  

“When we participated back in the year 2020 for the first time, we had no idea what a hackathon is and how this works. But we met so many amazing people including students, recruiters, and mentors,” she said.  

Thukral and Ratra competed together in ElleHacks three times, starting in 2020. Their project “Kiddy Bank,” done with two other U of G students, placed first for the Bell Custom Award at the hackathon in 2021.  

That project teaches elementary and middle school students how to make responsible financial decisions. The award went to projects that created a technological solution to help those who are financially unstable.   

“Hackathons like Ellehacks play a very important role for women in STEM to create networks that last for a lifetime and a comfortable environment to engage in these innovative practices, and to realize that they can learn literally anything on a weekend,” said Ratra. 

A presentation of their project is available here.