Kids Solve The Most Pressing Urban Problems With Designs You’d Never Think Up

The clarity and creativity of 10-year-olds really shouldn’t be ignored.

Ask a 10-year-old how to solve the problem of cleaning up trash, and you might end up with a concept like the “De-Waster 5000,” a helicopter that scoops plastic out of landfills and the ocean–and then uses a solar-powered flamethrower to melt the trash into beds for homeless people. In other words, you’ll get something that probably wouldn’t occur to an adult designer.


The De-Waster was one of the prototypes created in the Global Childrens’ Designathon on November 15, which invited kids in five cities to spend a day designing solutions to improve food, waste, or mobility issues in their hometowns.

For the designers behind the workshop, the event was a way to introduce children to skills they probably aren’t learning in the classroom. “A big impetus for the project is the way children learn or don’t learn,” says Emer Beamer, founder of Unexpect, a Dutch agency that focuses on teaching children how to use design to tackle global challenges.

“Often schools are teaching kids things they might never need to know again, and we’re not teaching them how to be creative, or design, or how to hack new technologies or deal with unexpected situations,” she says. “A lot of people are aware that we really need to change education, but they don’t know how. This is one method that could inspire people. It’s basically design thinking, adapted for children.”

The workshops also aim to give kids a voice about the future they’ll have to live in, and some practice thinking about how to make it better.

“I think a lot of us remember a time when you’re young–8, 9,10–and you get confronted with some of the big world problems,” Beamer says. “You’re really engaged and concerned and you have ideas about it, but nobody ever asks you what you think. The clarity of that age can be really interesting to bring to the discussion.”

For every fanciful idea like the De-Waster 5000, there were others that seem more feasible. In Amsterdam, students suggested a trash bin that turns plastic recycling into a new object and then spits it back at you. In Berlin, students suggested a robotic trashcan that sorts out recyclable waste, and then alerts the garbage truck when it’s full–not unlike this actual trash can.


By next spring, the designers from Unexpect plan to release a toolkit that schools can use to run the same workshop themselves.

About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.