Making use of the useless

University of Alberta student group prototyping compostable, biodegradable plates from spent grains.

What started out as a way to keep animals from getting caught in six-pack plastic rings for drink cans in the ocean has turned into an interdisciplinary project creating sustainable alternatives to single-use food plastic.

Alberta School of Business students Sarah Fong and Kevin Quach are two members of the team behind Bio6, a social entrepreneurship project housed under Enactus UAB, a student group that encourages students to address social issues like sustainability through entrepreneurship opportunities.

“Our project is trying to pave the way to a better future by bringing new life to something that hasn’t yet found a way to be used,” said Fong, a fifth-year bachelor of commerce student majoring in strategic management and organization.

Bio6 has partnered with Omen Brewing in Edmonton to use its spent grains — a byproduct of the beer brewing process — to prototype a compostable and biodegradable plate. The hope is to eventually partner with some food vendors on campus to test the product. The project has also prototyped drink coasters, which were being tested last year in Dewey’s on campus before the pandemic shut down the university.

“It was kind of exciting to see our product in use,” said Quach, a third-year BCom student. 

Quach is one of the project managers for Bio6. He said that though the project is targeting a fall 2021 date to test the plates in the market, they don’t want to rush the process. Currently, the research and development team is figuring out how to waterproof and strengthen the plates without compromising the overall look and feel of the product. 


Bio6 was founded in 2018 after winning first place at the Enactus University of Alberta Inventathon. Even though the designed product has evolved from the winning idea, Fong — who was part of the original pitch team — knew the mission to reduce the impact of humans on the environment wouldn’t change.

“We’re students trying to tackle the problem of not only reducing waste but also turning that waste into something that can be used again,” she said.

In the beginning, Fong said the biggest hurdle was figuring out how to build a team that could combine both the entrepreneurship and science components behind the idea. 

“Back in 2018, we were still trying to figure out how to approach social entrepreneurship,” said Fong. 

“We can all be super passionate about the cause, but how do we actually put it into action?”

As a student group, Bio6 does most of the heavy lifting themselves. One of the initial challenges was finding coveted lab space on campus to develop the product, and later figuring out how to pivot in order to continue that work from home during the pandemic. They’re also learning about some of the business decisions required to run a business. Currently, Bio6 relies on project accelerator grants to help buy equipment to develop prototypes, but the team is already thinking about how to secure financing in the future, for example.  

And because they’re no longer operating on campus this year, they’ve introduced a blog on their website which features writers in the campus community passionate about micro and macro-level sustainability changes. 

“It’s all about creating a community online where we can connect with others and show how sustainability is accessible,” said Fong.  

Since Fong is graduating this year, she’s passed the project manager torch on to Quach, but said she’s excited to stay involved with the project in an advisory capacity. 

Quach said that while the eventual goal is to incorporate Bio6 and distribute its products on a wider scale, Bio6 values the connections they’ve made with fellow startup entrepreneurs in the community and wants to remain small-batch.

“We’re learning and figuring things out as we go, but we’re really passionate about making a difference on campus and in our community,” he said.

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