NYCEDC's blog

Hacking Away at NYC's Waste


ideo nyhackswaste

Photo by David Gilford

By Matthew Weinberg, Senior Project Manager, and David Gilford, VP and Director, at Center for Economic Transformation

At IDEO’s #NYHacksWaste event this past Saturday, competitors were given 24 hours to create innovative tech solutions that addressed the issue of waste in New York City. Finished products ranged from “Tinder-like” apps that match people with unwanted items to a reusable coffee mug that works like Citibike. The winning team, Footprint, uses sensors and a variety of data sources to track people’s waste, and generates scores based on what they throw away.

In total, 13 teams pitched their idea to a panel of judges, including representatives from NYCEDC, Cleanweb NY, IDEO, and GrowNYC. While several teams tackled the same problems, each had a unique spin on how to reduce waste.

One product aggregates data for waste centers and recycling depots, providing an all-informative map that answers questions like "where to drop off an old computer?", "where can I bring leftover food after a dinner party?", or "how can I donate last season’s fashion mistake?" Not only were the ideas innovative, but most demonstrated real substance. Almost everyone had a working prototype, and most seemed eager to continue working on their product after the competition.

Photo by David Gilford

While hackathons have become almost commonplace, IDEO’s drive to inspire participants to produce applications that address urban challenges should be commended. Articulating a specific challenge has been an effective call to action for a community that has a natural disposition towards ideation and creativity. This approach helps ensure that the applications being developed serve a civic purpose, making it more likely that they will have an impact beyond the weekend event.

This approach has also helped other civic innovation competitions, like NYC BigApps, focus attention on problems relevant to communities and citizens. NYC BigApps has reported that about 60% of eligible entrants to the 2014 competition submitted a prototype addressing a pre-identified specific civic challenge.

While IDEO is already renowned for its innovative design work, their approach to #NYHacksWaste reflects a keen understanding of how to inspire issue-based civic innovation. Other creative firms—or any organizers of hackathons—wishing to accomplish a similar feat should take notice. A good idea is a terrible thing to waste!

Want to get involved in civic innovation? Don't miss NYC BigApps' first-ever Block Party this Saturday! A celebration of NYC tech, Industry City in Sunset Park will be filled with food, games, and team tech demonstrations. NYCBigApps competitors will also pitch their applications. RSVP here

NYC BigApps, Waste



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