2022 William Muir Edwards Citizenship Award: Jacob Damant

Determined to be “the change that you want to see in the world,” Jacob Damant embraces the role of environmental citizen

Donna McKinnon - 21 November 2022

Environmental stewardship has been a driving force in Jacob Damant’s life, beginning in grade 4 when he first learned about recycling and dreamed of a world where plastic waste was no longer a problem. When he entered his first year of engineering, he realized the problem had only got worse. 

“From government officials to my nextdoor neighbour, everyone was pro-recycling and wanted to see drastic changes in the waste management industry,” says Jacob. “However, like electricity, people often take the path of least resistance.”

Not Jacob. Recognizing his own culpability, he was determined to “be the change that you want to see in the world”. Along with a close friend and fellow engineering student, Jacob started a plastics recycling and manufacturing student group. Their goal was clear — to create an on-campus recycling centre to both minimize the U of A’s plastic waste output while also providing an opportunity for students to become involved in plastics recycling.  

“We named our student group Level 7, which highlights the seventh plastic recycling code, or “other”, says Jacob. “It represented how we considered ourselves the “other” methodology of industrial recycling — to take recycling directly to the hands of those who are passionate about it.”

Level 7 converts plastic waste into useful products, says Jacob, creating a positive feedback loop involving the transformation of plastic waste into economic and environmentally friendly products. 

In 2021, Level 7 recycled the equivalent of 50,000 plastic bottles, with a projected goal of recycling the equivalent of 250,000 plastic bottles per year. The team places a heavy emphasis on education, specifically with fellow university students but also with local grade schools. These initiatives include organizing a youth education recycling competition where students are tasked with creating small projects, games or toys out of their own recycled materials, inspiring local youth to develop their own recycling solutions.

To date, Level 7 has received $250,000 in funding, and has a dedicated space on campus. Jacob and his partners have purchased industrial grade recycling machinery and forged partnerships with other research groups, including a team led by Dr. Rafiq Ahmad in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, who is working to create an FDM 3D printer capable of printing in recycled High-density polyethylene (HDPE). Level 7 will be manufacturing and providing the HDPE, allowing for rapid prototyping to easily be carried out with recycled plastics. 

On top of the Level 7 recycling project, Jacob and fellow engineering students Connor Povoledo and Daniel Brick (under the supervision of Dr. Robert Burrell) also worked together on the development of a mobile app that uses AI to track how well wounds are healing and alert users if they need to seek medical help. 

Jacob’s behaviour and priorities sometimes appear odd from the outside. After he sustained a severe injury to his finger in a mountain bike race, Daniel was astounded when Jacob barely gave it a thought. 

All of the needless extra hours he spent studying, massive volume of projects he took on, and exceptional analytic ability was a product of his vision,” says Daniel. “I realised Jacob has the rare ability to see far into the future, imagining a better world, along with the engineering innovation to back it. Jacob did not care about his hand because he was far more enthralled by his vision of the future.”

Level 7, says Jacob, has been the defining factor in the development of his identity as an engineer, problem solver and leader. 

“I know that Level 7 has not yet had a meaningful impact on the Canadian recycling climate, but a trip of ten thousand kilometers begins with a single step. It’s my dream that Level 7 will outlast my time at the University of Alberta, and will serve as an inspiration for other leaders of the community to push environmental citizenship.”

Named in honour of the Faculty of Engineering’s founding professor, the William Muir Edwards Citizenship Award recognizes Engineering at Alberta undergraduate students who have made exceptional contributions to society. It’s a celebration of citizenship and of engineering students who go to extraordinary lengths to make our world a better place. Special thanks to the David Morris Family Foundation for supporting our students and making the William Muir Edwards Citizenship Awards possible. 

Do you know an undergraduate student whose volunteerism, contributions, and efforts, both on-campus and off-campus, work to make the world a better place? Learn more about the nomination process here