To prepare for the rigors of Senior Design, the capstone course for the Textile Engineering and Textile Technology degree programs, student teams were recently given a smaller project with the potential for huge impact. Before spending two semesters working to solve relevant industry problems for project sponsors, students spent one week at the start of the course trying to solve for the best way to repurpose rice bags to benefit people in developing countries.

The Rice Bag project, which is in its third year, was completed in conjunction with the nonprofit organization, Stop Hunger Now. Through community meal-packaging events, Raleigh-based Stop Hunger Now operates meal packaging programs at 20 cities in the U.S. and in South Africa, Malaysia, India, Italy, Peru and the Philippines. The rice included in those meals is packaged in 50 pound bags, tens of thousands of which are thrown away each year. Stop Hunger Now asks the the students to purposefully recycle these bags to extend their useful life. Teams were given two bags to work with and a charge to keep their product’s total materials cost under $10. At the conclusion of the weeklong project, the student teams presented prototypes they’d created to Stop Hunger Now representatives for judging.

“Stop Hunger Now is honored to partner with the Wilson College of Textiles in finding useful alternatives for our discarded rice bags. Every year we are amazed at the creativity and thoughtfulness that the students put into this project,” said Paul Renaud, aid procurement director for Stop Hunger Now.

The first place team created a lightweight adjustable sandal from their rice bag. The footwear would grow with the person wearing it and provide much needed foot protection. The students developed it after learning that people in third world countries contract more diseases from ill-fitting shoes than from having no shoes at all.

Dr. Russell Gorga and Dr. Jesse Jur teach Senior Design. Beyond developing students’ awareness of Stop Hunger Now and the populations it serves, the project is a favorite of the duo because of the lessons it teaches students about teamwork and collaboration.

“This project really helps students learn how to work together,” said Gorga. “They discover what strengths they each bring to the team and how to compromise and listen. They learn how to adapt and manage their time. These are all things they’ve got to do to be successful in Senior Design.”

The teams also gain experience in defining project criteria based on needs, concept ideation, prototyping, and evaluation, skills that are necessary as they address the open-ended industry problems they receive at the beginning of the fall semester.

1st place 2016 Winners: Brooke E Anderson, Paolo Giuseppe Fenu, Leah Michelle Mahr
The Idea: “For our senior design mini-project, we were given the task to repurpose two Stop Hunger Now rice bags to make a product to be used in third world countries, for under $10. When doing research, our team discovered that an estimated 300 million people worldwide do not have a pair of shoes, but two billion people are currently infected with parasitic diseases from having the wrong size shoes. Knowing these statistics, our team had a mission to provide safe footwear that could expand as a user’s foot grows in size, to tackle the infection issue. In one week, we prototyped a pair of expandable shoes, with durable rubber soles, and water resistant straps. The sandals have a gladiator strap structure, and the shoes can be lengthened and customized to a person’s foot size. Our pair of shoes totaled $2.90 in cost, and are lightweight and packable for easy shipping to third world countries.”

2nd Place 2016 Winners: Cody Williams Brown, Katavia Antionette Teachey, Nathan Steven Wintermute
The idea:  “PanelZ is a user defined product that can transform to meet different needs in different environments. By recycling used rice bags we created a functional unit that is the ultimate multipurpose product. PanelZ can reassemble into a bag, a tarp, a tent, or a pillow utilizing user friendly zippers and velcro. The ease of PanelZ allows our product to meet the many needs of a third world country, from shelter to containment out of a material that is resilient, durable, and capable of bearing significant weight.”

3rd Place 2016 Winners: Paul Burke, Phil Younis, Michaela Zuraff
The Idea: “We used our Stop Hunger Now rice bag to construct adhesive bandages. The final product comes in both small and large sizes, with both a breathable model and a waterproof model. Through the use of medical adhesive, gauze, and wax paper, the rice bag could be transformed into upwards of 500 bandages for less than $10 worth of materials. Bandages are especially useful in third-world countries, as many people work with their hands and do not have instant access to proper healthcare.”

3rd Place Winners: Nick John Marcellino, Neha Milind, Erin M. Roberts
The Idea: “In order to assist Stop Hunger Now in their mission to end world hunger in our lifetime, our team created a capillary mat for community gardens by recycling old rice bags. Capillary mats are agricultural textiles with the ability to prevent over-watering or under-watering and aid in crop yield. These mats saturate quickly due to capillary action, as water’s adhesion to the fibers overcomes cohesive forces between the liquid molecules. Traditionally, these mats were made of Rayon, but the majority are now made of polypropylene due to its higher resistance to rot, lighter weight, and higher wet strength. The polypropylene from the shredded rice bag was blended with polyester and rayon then carded and needlepunched in order to make our final product.”

For more information about Senior Design including current projects, past projects, and how to become a project sponsor, visit their website. For information on Stop Hunger Now, visit the organization’s website.