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Zero Waste Retail hackathon bids to solve plastic crisis




Vantastic, from left, are Nina Friedrich, Lindley Lentati, Tom Brown, Teresa Catarino and Oscar Gillespie. Picture: Keith Heppell
Vantastic, from left, are Nina Friedrich, Lindley Lentati, Tom Brown, Teresa Catarino and Oscar Gillespie. Picture: Keith Heppell

The first Zero Waste Retail Hackathon generated some great ideas on how to eliminate wasteful packaging from the shopping experience.

The event asked questions including: what sort of packaging options do retailers intend for consumers who want to shop in ways that don’t harm the planet? How much is shopping a time-sensitive activity, and how important is the social component? How can technology help cut out plastic wrapping and casing from the retail experience? And what will consumers make of the new customer experience in a zero waste retailer?

Organised by zero waste retailer Full Circle, the event at Barclays Eagle Labs in Cambridge saw participants form groups on Saturday morning to design a zero waste service, deliver a presentation for 4pm on Sunday and hopefully win the contest.

By late Sunday morning the central themes to the challenge – “to re-engineer the way in which consumers buy goods to be more environmentally and socially sustainable”– were becoming apparent.

Zero to Hero team, from left, are Shrinal Inamdar, Aksara Inamdar, James Bay, Marina Dubini and Elizabeth May. Picture: Keith Heppell
Zero to Hero team, from left, are Shrinal Inamdar, Aksara Inamdar, James Bay, Marina Dubini and Elizabeth May. Picture: Keith Heppell

“We’re thinking about how to make the customer be zero waste in a retail shop,” said James Buy of team Zero to Hero, “and how to make it a happier experience.

“We think it’s important to look at the social inclusion aspect of these shops, and make them not just accessible to a small audience. First and foremost that means having communal spaces in the city centre and in neighbourhoods where you can do shopping, in Cambridge that just means market square, where local retailers gather together – it’s not being facilitated.”

In a room to the side is Oscar Gillespie, who’s in the Vantastic team.

“We watched a presentation yesterday morning and started brainstorming the rest of the weekend, bouncing ideas around,” says Oscar, who’s also the Green Party city councillor for Market ward. “We’re working on some visual designs of an app that we’d want to use, from the home page to the container.”

Alex Rosso, who helped design some of the parameters for the first Zero Waste Retail hackathon, and Paul Richardson from Full Circle with a new type of dispenser for in-store sales of produce including lentils, nuts, oats and other items.Picture: Keith Heppell
Alex Rosso, who helped design some of the parameters for the first Zero Waste Retail hackathon, and Paul Richardson from Full Circle with a new type of dispenser for in-store sales of produce including lentils, nuts, oats and other items.Picture: Keith Heppell

The container issue could quite possibly be the key for many consumers. Do they take their own containers to a zero waste shop, or does the retailer provide one-off containers suitable for the produce? Full Circle’s stock list includes oats, washing liquid, lentils, nuts, dried fruits, oils, vinegar... and even if the consumer takes an appropriate container of their own, does the container get weighed or is the produce weighed by the dispensing device and put into the container?

The DispensAbility team has designed a dispenser which does all the weighing for the customer.

“We’re trying to innovate on dispensers at zero waste shops,” says Ellen Simmons, who’s there with several Cambridge Consultants colleagues including Tanaka Kungwengwe, who’s an intern from Brunel University. “We’re trying to make it less work for staff, and a more pleasant and efficient experience for the customer.”

DispensAbility at Barclays Eagle Labs for the Zero Waste Retail Hackthon. From left are Tanaka Kungwengwe, Ellen Simmons, Bu Jing Yi, Louise Hyde, Jashan Bhoora, Alessio Bortone and Ilian Mitev. Picture: Keith Heppell
DispensAbility at Barclays Eagle Labs for the Zero Waste Retail Hackthon. From left are Tanaka Kungwengwe, Ellen Simmons, Bu Jing Yi, Louise Hyde, Jashan Bhoora, Alessio Bortone and Ilian Mitev. Picture: Keith Heppell

“The dispenser would provide useful data for retailers, for instance when it’s running low on the product,” says Tanaka.

Full Circle’s on-site organiser, Paul Richardson, co-founded the organisation with Emma Thomas and Johanna Laibe in September last year. The zero waste approach is working.

“We’re on the city centre market Thursday to Monday plus we sell a range of online goods for delivery by bike or electric vehicle to CB codes only,” he says. He thinks an app would be useful to keep track of the pop-up mobile shop which is at sites including the Science Park and West Cambridge in the week. A ‘click-and-collect’ service would mean people could order online and collect the goods from the van.

The presentations were all hugely impressive. Vantastic’s screenshots of its app were, well, fantastic. The ‘Impact’ button was especially welcome.

“You can create a group, encourage your employer or community to join, and see the amount of CO2 you’ve saved visualised as a standard petrol car driving around the country. It’s about my personal impact, what are my savings doing for the world – like Ecosia tells you how many trees you’ve helped plant by using their search engine.”

Teamwork - the participants of the first-ever Zero Waste Retail hackathon at Barclays Eagle Labs
Teamwork - the participants of the first-ever Zero Waste Retail hackathon at Barclays Eagle Labs

Zero to Hero’s pitch included a sketch involving a customer and a member of staff using various containers. It seemed to be saying that having OCD issues could help if you’re aiming to go zero retail waste. A bewildering number of options are lined up: they weigh the goods, you weigh the goods, you bring the container, they provide the container... It’s a good sketch.

Finally there’s DispensAbility, a seven-person team which delivers probably the best presentation of the day. They might not have all the right solutions in place, but they’ve got the right thinking to facilitate the right solutions. Though they didn’t win – the winner was Vantastic, probably because their design would help improve low-impact retailing quickly and possibly at scale for little cost.

“Full Circle were delighted to sponsor the world’s first zero waste retail hackathon, and even more pleased at the quality and diversity of the solutions devised by the teams,” concluded Paul. “We plan to continue to work with all the teams to progress their innovations.”



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