Plastathon, environmentally themed Hackathon, Iceland



An environmentally themed hackathon IRL.



A hackathon is an event where people come together to solve problems. It was first used by computer programmers for software development, but the idea has spread to other areas. Gathering people with different competence and perspectives is used as a creative and fun way to get innovative solutions to humanity’s problematic relationship with plastics and textiles.



Plastaþon was held in September 2019. The participants received both education and training and got to meet a diverse group of people gathered to create innovative solutions guided by experts. The participants formed teams and worked together to solve challenges the world is facing due to our overuse of plastics. 50 people (max number) registered, and 34 participants completed the hackathon. The Plastathon ran from 9:00 on a Friday until 14:00 the next day.

We chose to offer as much vegan and vegetarian food options as possible and have lots of it. Snacks and soft drinks were available the whole time.


Your guide throwing a hackathon

A hackathon is an idea workshop where many components need to fit together for a successful event. Hildur Harðardóttir walks you through the process.

1) The Challenge

What‘s the problem? Put forth a challenge that covers the problem as extensively as possible.

How can we solve the challenges we face regarding our overuse of plastics?

1. How can we reduce plastic use?

2. How can we increase plastic recycling?

3. How can we prevent plastic pollution?

2) Marketing and registration

What channels do you want to use to advertise the hackathon? Make appropriate marketing material, using logos and brand colors. Set up a simple registration and information website explaining the concept, who can participate as well as the schedule and partners. Tip: create social media sizes, GIFs, online banners and Facebook event photo.

3) Expert talks

Choose the expert speakers wisely! You will both need an introduction to the environmental challenge that will be tackled in the hackathon and a presentation about the innovative process and design thinking. After the teams have formed and started working, offer an inspirational talk that gives good ideas and motivates the participants to keep on going. Once the jury is deliberating on the winning team, offer a talk related to the topic e.g. from an NGO while the participants are waiting.

4) Speed dating

Most participants don‘t know each other from before. We need to break the ice! Encourage the participants to pair with someone they don‘t know, and give each pair 3 minutes. ”What‘s your background?” ”Why are you here?” Put the timer on and signal when to swap, and then when to switch to a new date. 4 rounds or dates will take around 15 minutes. Tip: with a smaller group you can arrange for longer dates!

5) Idea storming

The idea and brain storming consists of two sessions. 1) In the first session the participants discuss the challenges concerning the three problems/questions raised and 2) in the second session they focus on solutions.   Split participants into groups with approx. 6 persons. Each group gets to discuss both challenges and solutions to the three problems/questions. With 35 participants in total you need two sets of tables (6 tables, 6 moderators), in order to keep each group at a reasonable size so that everyone gets time to express themselves. The moderators remain at each table but the groups move around between tables. Tip: give time for a short introduction round the first time the group sits down together.

6) Moderators

At each table you need a moderator who makes sure that everyone gets to speak, encourages participants to write down their thoughts and ideas and recaps quickly what the previous group at their table has discussed. After the idea storming sessions the moderators confer. They combine similar ideas, put them up on the ”idea wall“ and present them to the participants. Moderators should be available during the whole day to provide expert advice to the teams during their work. Tip: good moderators listen more than they speak.

7) Team building

One moderator per problem/question presents the ideas from the previous phase in front of  the whole group. (Participants can also bring pre-existing ideas to the hackathon, pitch them and try to recruit a team. Remember to communicate this option beforehand.) Participants put their name on an idea they want to work on. Ideal team size is 3-5 pers. Tip: if many like the same idea – split up and may the best execution win!

8) Team work  

Teams split into different rooms. Throughout this phase, participants have access to moderators and experts to help them form their ideas. Organizers must explain what the final product should be. Is it only a presentation? Or does the jury also want a one pager? Or maybe something else?

9) Pitch training

The teams finalize their ideas and prepare 3 minute presentations for the jury. Get an expert on pitching to go through the most important things to consider: Why – the challenge How – the solution Whom – the target group Team – why you Why now – the opportunity

10) The jury and prize

The jury at the Plastaþon 2019 consisted of Sigríður Heimisdóttir, industrial designer at IKEA and sustainability teacher at Reykjavik University, Auður Annu Magnúsdóttir CEO of the Icelandic Envrionmental Association and Einar Bárðarson CEO of the Icelandic Wetland Fund. The winning team received a prize consisting of 10 hours in consultation with the Innovation Center of Iceland as well as 3 months residence at their incubation center, 4 hours in consultation with the Icelandic Environment Agency and various gift certificates.

The winning idea

Self-service machines for dairy and liquid products in super markets so that customers can dispense the product into reusable packaging themselves. The team consisted of two artists, two students from the Technical College, an engineer and a marketing manager for one of the biggest super market chains in Iceland. The jury concluded that this team won because their idea is a solution to a lot of single use plastic waste and the idea could become a reality in the near future.