Boise State University-based Team Selected as Winner of the 2024 Circular Plastics Challenge

Date 2024-05-09 | About Hillenbrand

  • Winning concept focuses on redesign of PET bottles to increase the collection likelihood in the recycling process.
  • Presented by Net Impact, Hillenbrand, and The Coca-Cola Company, the program aims to inspire the next generation of leaders to rethink the future of sustainability within the circular economy.

ORLANDO, Fla. – May 9, 2024 – A team from Boise State University was selected as winner of the 2024 Circular Plastics Challenge with its forward-thinking solution regarding the circular economy, presented during the virtual showcase of the Circular Plastics Challenge at NPE2024.

Participants were tasked with designing solutions to increase the supply of rPET, or recycled polyethylene terephthalate. The winning team proposed an innovative redesign of bottles called Strong Bottle to prevent flattening during the recycling process, which in turn could result in a 15% increase in PET collected during the recycling process. The solution addresses the problem that many lightweight PET bottles are landfilled because they are easily flattened and mistaken for paper during the recycling process in material recovery facilities.

The team includes Terra Miller-Cassman, a materials scientist with a background in environmental science and consulting. In 2019, she pivoted her career to advance technologies and solutions to address plastic waste. She currently develops new recycling processes and sustainable materials as a Ph.D. candidate in materials science and engineering. Taylor Fackrell and Aaron Smith, Ph.D., supported the Strong Bottle project through their engineering and design expertise. Fackrell is a systems assembly technician completing a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, and Smith is a professor in mechanical engineering with a background in product development.

In its second year, the Circular Plastics Challenge generated 65 applications from 18 countries across the globe, bringing undergraduate and graduate students as well as professionals together to strategize how to keep plastics in the economy and out of the environment. Five finalist teams virtually presented their unique solutions Wednesday to a panel of judges at NPE2024, the largest plastics trade show in the Americas that is produced by the Plastics Industry Association (PLASTICS) and draws attendees from around the world.

The 2024 Circular Plastics Challenge winners are:

  • First Place: Strong Bottle, led by Terra Miller-Cassman, Aaron Smith, and Taylor Fackrell, Boise State University, Boise, Idaho, US
  • Second Place: EcoTrace, led by professionals Aadhithya Sujith and Sowmya Singh, Kannur, Kerala & Nagpur, Maharashtra, India
  • Third Place: rMarket, led by Carissa Tasto and Jennifer Larkin, recent MBA graduates from Presidio Graduate School, San Anselmo, California, US

To recognize their efforts, the top three teams will receive $10,000, $2,500, and $1,000, respectively.

Learn more about the Circular Plastics Challenge at

Organizations interested in partnering with Net Impact, Hillenbrand, and The Coca-Cola Company to support upcoming Circular Plastics Challenges should contact Hilary Manzo, Associate Director of Programs at Net Impact, at [email protected].

About Hillenbrand

Hillenbrand (NYSE: HI) is a global industrial company that provides highly-engineered, mission-critical processing equipment and solutions to customers in over 100 countries around the world. Our portfolio is composed of leading industrial brands that serve large, attractive end markets, including durable plastics, food, and recycling. Guided by our Purpose — Shape What Matters For Tomorrow™ — we pursue excellence, collaboration, and innovation to consistently shape solutions that best serve our associates, customers, communities, and other stakeholders. To learn more, visit

About Net Impact

Over 30 years Net Impact has built a diverse community in 40+ countries committed to using business to advance social and environmental action. Net Impact mobilizes its global community of more than 100,000 emergent change agents to leverage their careers to drive transformational environmental and social change. Through a strategic set of initiatives aimed to engage and benefit its core stakeholders, Net Impact is committed to advancing climate action and building the capacity of the next generation of workforce members. Visit

About The Coca-Cola Company

The Coca-Cola Company (NYSE: KO) is a total beverage company with products sold in more than 200 countries and territories. Our company's purpose is to refresh the world and make a difference. We sell multiple billion-dollar brands across several beverage categories worldwide. Our portfolio of sparkling soft drink brands includes Coca-Cola, Sprite and Fanta. Our water, sports, coffee and tea brands include Dasani, smartwater, vitaminwater, Topo Chico, BODYARMOR, Powerade, Costa, Georgia, Gold Peak and Ayataka. Our juice, value-added dairy and plant-based beverage brands include Minute Maid, Simply, innocent, Del Valle, fairlife and AdeS. We're constantly transforming our portfolio, from reducing sugar in our drinks to bringing innovative new products to market. We seek to positively impact people's lives, communities and the planet through water replenishment, packaging recycling, sustainable sourcing practices and carbon emissions reductions across our value chain. Together with our bottling partners, we employ more than 700,000 people, helping bring economic opportunity to local communities worldwide. Learn more at and follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn.