Winner Selected In National Geographic And R/GA ‘Make Good’ Innovation Lab

Changemakers unite to rethink plastic.

Five finalists from around Australia were selected to take part in the Make Good – Defy Plastic Innovation Lab, a first-of-its-kind accelerator program designed to empower innovative solutions that help tackle the planet’s single-use plastic problem.

National Geographic and global innovation consultancy R/GA launched the challenge in April 2019, to focus on three strategic ways to address the growing issue of plastic pollution in our oceans. The applicants were tasked to offer solutions that reduce global consumption of single-use plastics, revive coastlines through the physical removal of plastic that’s already found its way into the ocean, and redesign products and materials with plastic eliminated entirely.

From an impressive pool of individuals and teams that submitted solutions for the challenge, a total of five finalists were selected by a panel of expert judges from National Geographic and R/GA to progress into a three-day immersive innovation lab hosted at Sydney’s lauded Semi-Permanent Festival of Design & Creativity.

The five finalists that took part in the innovation lab are as follows:

  • Good Citizens – a sunglasses brand turning trash into good
  • WAW Handplanes – a bodysurfing brand turning ocean waste into lifestyle products
  • Kua Kelp – a UNSW team making disposable products from kelp
  • Toberite – a sustainable concrete replacement
  • Carapac – a crustacean based, home compostable plastic alternative

Hosted over three days, the innovation lab included talks from National Geographic explorers and scientists, as well as a series of design workshops led by R/GA.

At the end of the lab, one team was selected to take part in an ongoing mentorship program hosted at R/GA Sydney, where they received expert guidance and advice from R/GA creative and business transformation teams.

WAW Handplanes were selected for ongoing mentorship and development of the BadFish; a bodysurfing handplane made from one-third ocean plastic collected from Australian beaches, with the rest coming from household recycling.

“Our ultimate goal is to support the development of a circular economy in Australia by embedding value into post-consumer plastics and fighting for a more efficient, localised system.” (Rikki Gilbey, WAW Handplanes)

We sat down with WAW founder Rikki Gilbey to learn more about BadFish and the brands ambitious plans for growth:

What inspired you to start your business and launch the WAW BadFish?

I started my business because I wanted to do something that channelled my passion for our environment; especially the ocean. At WAW our mission has always been to provide sustainable, high-performance bodysurfing products, to help people get out into the ocean and leave nothing but cleaner oceans in their path. This led me down the path of creating the WAW BadFish - a high performance bodysurfing handplane made from recycled ocean plastics, collected directly from Australian beaches.

How is the BadFish handplane manufactured?

The process starts with collecting ocean plastic. We’ve partnered with Eco Barge Clean Seas, who have been collecting marine debris from around the Great Barrier Reef for many years. To date they have removed over 193,000kgs of trash from this region.

They collect everything from single-use plastics, such as straws and coffee cups, to discarded fishing equipment and general ocean debris.  The plastics are then washed to remove contaminants and shredded using a machine developed by the Plastic Collective and funded by Coca-Cola Amatil.

The shredded material is shipped to our manufacturer Replas. It’s here that the shredded plastics are mixed with the kerbside post-consumer waste, collected from domestic recycling bins along the east coast of Australia. Finally, this mix is all melted and injection-moulded into the handplanes - completing our closed loop, Australian supply chain.

How does BadFish approach the plastic problem differently to other brands?

In delving into the world of plastic waste and recycling we soon discovered that there was a problem within the problem - people are overwhelmed by the scale of the crisis and are starting to switch off.

Many brands, charities and other organisations are dealing with the plastic problem in ways that ask consumers to make a sacrifice by removing something from their lives. Our brand has an opportunity to differentiate itself and offer something unique that allows people to have fun while being eco.

Tell us about your experience of the Make Good innovation lab. What did you learn? Were there any particular breakthrough moments?

One of the best things about the lab was connecting with other, like-minded people. Working on your own project can sometimes be isolating and it’s really encouraging to have the support of organisations like National Geographic and R/GA, as well as meeting people doing other awesome projects in this space and learning about shared challenges.

How do you feel about being selected to take part in the ongoing mentorship program? What do you hope to achieve?

We were so excited to be selected to take part in the ongoing mentorship program and be able to continue the work we started in the Make Good Innovation Lab.

Having your own small business means working on absolutely every element, without necessarily having the skills to match! Spending time with experts will really help us solidify our plans to grow the project, scale the beach clean-up infrastructure and launch the BadFish in October.

You’ve mentioned that the BadFish is a case study product. What is your vision for the future?

Our ultimate goal is to support the development of a circular economy in Australia by embedding value into post-consumer plastics and fighting for a more efficient, localised system. Our aim is to expand the supply chain that we have developed by working with partners to create a cost effective, time efficient modular version of our entire processing system. Not only giving the power back to the people to deal with their local plastic waste issues but also commercialising their efforts.

We would then love to move beyond Australia and look at communities in developing countries where plastic is an even greater issue. But first of all, we need to get the BadFish out there and ensure it’s a solid case study with a successful Australian launch this summer!

Lastly, what would you say to anyone who is yet to give bodysurfing a try?

If you love the ocean, then get out there and enjoy it! Bodysurfing is the purest and most simple form of surfing and offers a connection to nature like no other. Oh yeah, and it’s super fun and easy to do!

Look out for the next National Geographic & R/GA Make Good Innovation Challenge, and take the Planet or Plastic pledge today.


Lead Image: National Geographic Explorer Karina May Reyes-Antonio discussing the power of collaboration for the betterment of our planet, at Sydney’s Semi Permanent Festival 2019.

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