Students spent their first hands-on Materials Lab this morning working with objects donated by the YMCA Blacksburg that pose a significant challenge to their operation: furniture made from pressed wood. While affordable and functional, these furnishings do not typically age well. Each time they are assembled or disassembled, they sustain damage at their mechanical joints, and the wood-to-fastener connections lose integrity. They are also often left unfinished on the surfaces contacting the floor, which makes them vulnerable to moisture damage. When faced with space limitations and limited staff, the Y is forced to either reject donations of these types of furniture, or pay to dispose of them if they cannot be repaired to a sellable state. Particularly during move-out periods, the volume of donations greatly exceeds available resources to deal with them. A better solution is needed to deal with these types of donations more sustainably.
On a global scale, diminishing high quality forest resources and greater consumer demand for affordable furniture mean that this type of material is becoming much more common than raw wood. Our class has an opportunity in this lab to study the material properties of pressed board. This lab is an important preparatory step for our last lab of the semester, in which each team will propose a useful way to upcycle pressed board materials into something the YMCA can sell, therefore both reducing waste disposal costs and offering a potential new revenue stream. Through these labs, we'll apply our creativity not only to help the local YMCA solve its immediate problems, but also contribute to finding solutions that may help address the world's solid waste and resource scarcity problems.