Project | Recycling as a Viable Industry for Supported Employment of those with Disabilities

LOCATION: Clarkson University, New York, United States | PROJECT LAUNCHED: 2016



  • Clarkson University Engineering Students
  • St. Lawrence NYSARC




Employment offers people an opportunity to develop a work ethic, responsibility and a sense of being valued — as well as a paycheck. But most individuals with developmental disabilities usually have few work prospects, even in sheltered environments where a job can also provide the rewards of personal growth, inclusion and independence.

In northern New York State, a team of seven biomedical engineering students at Clarkson University and four high school students is working to change that. In collaboration with St. Lawrence NYSARC, a non-profit association that serves individuals with intellectual and other developmental disabilities, the students are using technology to improve sorting and counting processes at a local beverage container recycling center. Greater efficiencies in processing should boost the dollar return from the returnable recycling business, but the vision for this project is much broader than that.

The students hope to demonstrate that recycling is a worthwhile, practical option for supported employment of those with physical and mental disabilities. This could lead to additional employment opportunities for this group throughout New York, and in all other states with a beverage redemption law.

An EPICS in IEEE grant of US$8,300 is helping to both modernize intake processes and improve the accuracy of the count when the recyclables are returned to the various vendors.

So far, the student teams have built complete work tables designed for easy assembly. With an eye toward transferring this technology to other supported work environments, the electronic components that handle the counting, as well as producing labels, receipts and reports, are fashioned as modules that could be assembled at other recycling centers by a team from a nearby IEEE Student Branch.

The project is providing both the university and high school students with hands-on experience in building their own totalizer — or counter — and to wire, program and test it. Working as a team, they also are gaining social skills and knowledge about people with disabilities — and how engineering can be applied to help design better assistive technologies.
Meanwhile, making recyclables processing faster and more accurate offers an important benefit for communities: The faster, more efficient service encourages customers to return again, thus en couraging sustainability and a cleaner environment