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05 Aug 2019
Hacks That Help: Can Technology Save Oceans?
Hacks That Help: Can Technology Save Oceans?

Espoo, Finland, February 27, 2019 – So much plastic debris winds up in the ocean each year scientists warn that by 2050 plastic bottles could outnumber fish. Avoiding this scenario is of intense global interest. Yet it took one team of students less than two days to come up with a possible solution.

Their proposed fix, called “Trashalizer”, is an application that helps make collecting plastic in developing countries more profitable.

Back in December, Trashalizer won first prize at a hack-a-thon hosted by Aalto University and co-organized by the United Nations Technology Innovation Labs (UNTIL) in Espoo, a new UN entity with the mission of harnessing technology to solve pressing development challenges. Three months later, with the assistance of UNTIL and mentorship from the Technical Research Center of Finland (VTT), the team is exploring ways of scaling and testing their project in a country where the problem throw-away plastic is particularly severe.

UNTIL has a mandate to seek out new and existing technologies that can be deployed to assist nations and the most vulnerable in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  UNTIL labs exists in Finland, Egypt, and Malaysia.

The creation of a team of Finnish programmers and designers, Trashalizer is simple but possibly profound. The tool essentially allows anyone with a smartphone to scan the bar codes of bottles and then sell what they collect to plastic recycling companies.  If successfully brought to scale it could initiate two important changes: make garbage collection yet another industry disrupted by the gig economy while simultaneously cleaning the environment.

The project emerged from a weekend hack-a-thon to brainstorm and pitch ideas for ventures to help achieve Sustainable Development Goal 12, which calls for “sustainable production and consumption patterns.” A panel of judges from leading tech industries from around the world selected solutions they felt were both innovative and feasible.

Overall, more than 20 teams that had been vetted from hundreds of applicants participated in the two-day hack-a-thon. Teams of engineers and software developers came mostly from around Finland, but also from Germany, Switzerland and as far away as the Philippines and Brazil. Winning ideas won cash prizes along with the cash to earn commercial contracts and start-up support.

The winner of the second prize at the December event was a team that created a “circular materials passport.”  Third prize went to “Amber”, which proposed applying blockchain and artificial intelligence tools to the field of logistics.

Secretary General

"The advances of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, including those brought on by a combination of computing power, robotics, big data and artificial intelligence, are generating revolutions in health care, transport and manufacturing.  
I am convinced that these new capacities can help us to lift millions of people out of poverty, achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and enable developing countries to leap‑frog into a better future."

23 March 2018, New York