Repurposing donated clothing: Students aim to reduce waste and help workers with disabilities

Apr 26, 2017

Credit freeimages.com/Burak Sezer

When people clear out their drawers and closets haul their unwanted clothing to a collection site, they may envision their old jeans or jacket finding a second life in someone else’s wardrobe.  

But not all of the donated clothing is suitable for resale, and sometimes it ends up in a landfill.

A team of engineering students from RIT is working to prevent some of that waste and at the same time improve the workplaces of people with disabilities.

RIT industrial design engineering student Cat McCarthy said her team designed a table top temporary workspace unit made from clothing that was donated to ABVI Goodwill in Rochester.

"You can take all of the pieces out and assemble it as needed. If you want to have a presentation board, the soft side of the board can act as a tacking surface. If you don't need it, you can take it apart. But it sort of acts as a visual cue to say 'I'm working by myself today.' "

Other designs included a modular room divider and modular floor tiles. 

"Everything is inspired by a natural vibe,” McCarthy said, “because we did a lot of research into how being outside affects your focus levels, so we wanted to bring that indoors for people who are trying to concentrate."

McCarthy said the products can not only be assembled at ABVI Goodwill and resold, they can also be used specifically in workplaces for people with disabilities.

The students presented their projects at an annual symposium in Albany hosted by New York State Industries for the Disabled.

Students from Alfred State College demonstrated their device to help workers with development disabilities at Arc of Livingston-Wyoming roll instruction packages.  Another team from Alfred University worked with the Arc of Steuben to create a more efficient system for ordering, printing, and shipping by using scanners. They also made ergonomic improvements to a cart to improve work efficiency at an apparel factory.