Paper Recycling for Liberia

The Fall 2015 semester wrapped up on December 22, 2015 and with it the end to the first offering of Impacts of Engineering. This semester has been a learning experience as an instructor for this course. As it was the first time I have taught this course, there was a lot to be sorted out and a lot of things I could have done better.

The design project incorporated into the first delivery of this course involved the design of a paper recycling process and resulting product. This project was conducted in partnership with an organization known as Gift 2 Change, founded by Fombah Lasana Kanneh of Monrovia, Liberia (shown below).


The organization’s mission is to “help reduce poverty and build a middle class society through waste recycling.” The organization currently operates by collecting discarded clothing and furniture and reprocessing these items into products that can be sold. The money raised through this process is used to provide employment for the men and women of Monrovia and to fund youth programs which provide clothing, books, educational materials, and training to the poorest children in Monrovia and the surrounding rural areas. The goal of the course project was to explore new directions for Gift 2 Change involving the collection and reprocessing of paper products for review and possible implementation by the organization.

As the course progressed, students were guided through the design process through both lecture content and small group work. Students were able to communicate with Fombah for assistance with their questions as they arose. In addition to the technical aspects of the design, students had to research societal and environmental considerations in Liberia to ensure that their design made sense for the region and the result would be marketable to best ensure success. During the Fall 2015 semester, seven student groups pursued designs to develop a recycled paper product for Gift 2 Change.

Each of the seven students groups developed independent solutions drawing from a variety of possible processing techniques. The end products that student groups proposed for implementation included decorative and functional bowls, fire briquettes, papercrete bricks, disposable pillows, and a paper-based soil additive similar to compost. While these ideas are not necessarily novel as means of producing goods out of paper and paper pulp, students were forced to think about what form of processing techniques would be accessible to Gift 2 Change and its employees. Further, these solutions suggest that students looked to a variety of industries for inspiration such as agriculture, construction, and medical care as well as basic home comfort. As shown below, students explored various means of processing recycled paper.

Students also investigated various aspects of their intended product in order to develop the best result. For example, in the next set of photos, students are packing a mold to make a papercrete brick. These students tested various ratios of paper to concrete to better understand how the ratio affects the curing time and the quality of the resulting brick. In Figure \ref{fig:burning}, students are testing various shapes and densities of fire briquettes to better understand burn time, heat output, and smoke or soot production.

The final products of the students’ designs demonstrate the results of their testing and iteration.

Overall, the students produced some really interesting work. These results were communicated back to Fombah for potential implementation by his organization.

The photos shown here can be downloaded from Figshare. Also, a writeup on the experience of this first semester offering is going to be presented in June 2016 at the American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition under the title, “Incorporation of Liberal Education into the Engineering Curriculum at a Polytechnic.” A preprint of that paper can be found on Figshare.


Author: devinberg

Associate Professor of Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Stout.

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