Hacking the waste stream at the D.C. Climathon

So much can be done in 24 hours. Innovation and creativity can thrive in only one day, so says the philosophy of the worldwide sustainability event, the Climathon.

Around the globe, green leaders, students, professors, workers in government, and everyday citizens unite for a one-day conference to develop and evolve inventive solutions to pressing environmental issues.

Spanning a record 59 cities in more than 36 countries, the annual Climathon provides the resources and outlet to promote public good. Through Skype video conferences and a constantly refreshed Twitter feed, the worldwide community of social engineers is connected to the fullest, allowing for an extensive exchange of ideas.

In only its second year, the Climathon has solidified itself as one of the most impactful environmental conferences in the world. The D.C. Climathon was hosted by The George Washington University’s Office of Sustainability and held at The George Washington University School of Business.

The Climathon, while fostering a sense of teamwork and collaboration, encourages competition by asking participants to break into teams and focus on developing specific business ideas that allow for a more sustainable future.

The goal of this year’s D.C. Climathon was “Hack the Waste Stream,” calling attention to the expanding problem of 200,000 annual tons of reusable goods plaguing D.C. landfills. Starting at 3 p.m. on Oct. 28, and ending 24 hours later, participants worked throughout the entirety of the event, rejecting sleep in the hopes of perfecting their projects.

The event was “challenging, exhausting, but still fruitful and well worth the endeavor,” says participant Chris Fitch. Ultimately, six teams presented their individual pitches on how to “hack” the waste stream to a panel of judges. The finalists were announced at the commencement of the competition. 

The six ideas of the participating teams not only provided innovative solutions to the discarded durable goods problem, but displayed great creativity and in-depth analysis. The six projects were:

  • Waste Into Textile focuses on converting discarded clothes into high-end fashion pieces that ultimately could generate revenue for low income areas in D.C.
  • Another team suggested replacing the confusing labels on plastic cups and bottles with QR codes. The idea being this will help create a sense of transparency in the plastic industry, and might ultimately encourage companies to use more eco-friendly plastics.
  • Hand-Me-Down-Public-Goods calls for creating a flea market-esque sale in the beginning and end of the collegiate school year. D.C. universities would house leftover/unwanted dorm supplies because “who would want to bring a mattress pad back to Utah?” and eventually sell it to incoming college students as a cheaper alternative than purchasing new. This can reduce waste by providing a concrete outlet for reusing goods, and also offer the backing of the university as to its quality.
  • Plot Twist, a business designed to address waste from construction sites, takes unwanted materials that would be hauled off to landfills, and repurposes them to make aesthetically pleasing community landscapes.
  • Journeyture, a mashup of the words journey and furniture, focuses on providing affordable high-end furniture to “nomadic young professionals,” such as young 20-something-year-old entrepreneurs, who are always on the move in the city.
  • The Silent Recyclers, presented by three deaf innovators, aims to reuse appliances and discarded metals in creating aesthetically pleasing works of art that can be sold to local businesses. This operation will offer work primarily to the deaf community, most of whom are unemployed and looking for work. This mirrors Junkyard Cathedral in Austin, Texas, a new age and beautiful maze of recycled metals that is accessible and beloved by the public.

All presentations proved to be impactful and good for the community through promoting economic growth or environmental protection. Fifteen participants proved that if you have an idea in your head and the enthusiasm to pursue it, an adaptable plan can be implemented to make the world a better place.

The four finalist teams are Waste Into Textile, Hand-Me-Down-Public-Goods, Journeyture and The Silent Recyclers. These teams will turn in a feasibility report by Dec. 5, and a winner will be chosen on Dec. 12. This winner will receive an advantage to the third round of the GW New Venture Competition, technical support from SWANA (Solid Waste Association of North America) and a $1,000 prize to advance their ideas, provided by Climathon sponsor Waste Connections.

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