Making the Disposable Reusable, Pitt’s Mascaro Center challenges students to make one-off products reusable in “green” design contest

Issue Date: 
September 9, 2009

Despite the fashionable chatter about sustainability and all things “green,” countless products—from plastic bottles and carpeting to cleaning products and packaging—remain single-use and are frequently discarded in landfills and the environment.

To spark ideas for rendering the disposable reusable, the University of Pittsburgh’s Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation has challenged undergraduate students in Southwestern Pennsylvania to create multiuse replacements for one-off products, processes, or services. The cash-prize 2009-10 Undergraduate Design Challenge seeks enhanced versions of everyday items that diminish waste and consumption, be it through longer lifetimes, potential for reuse, or decreased energy and water use during manufacturing.

The students’ inventions will be judged for originality and the possibility of successful implementation. The winning team receives $5,000; second-place receives $2,500; and third-place, $1,000. Teams of two-to-five students from any university or college in Allegheny, Butler, Washington, and Westmoreland counties are eligible to participate. Students are encouraged to form multidisciplinary and cross-institutional teams. Project concepts are due Oct. 21. Five finalist teams will be announced Nov. 4, and each will receive a $1,500 grant for supplies, equipment, travel, and other project expenses. The winning team will be announced April 30, 2010. Complete rules and deadlines are available on the Mascaro Center’s Web site at

This latest challenge follows the Mascaro Center’s inaugural 2008 design competition, which prompted students in the region to create a technique for “greening” old buildings that would reduce electricity consumption and pay for itself within one year. Juniors Micah Toll, a mechanical engineering student in Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering, and Shaun Espenshade, a rhetoric and classics student at Duquesne University, netted the $5,000 first-place prize for constructing a lightweight plastic wind turbine and augmenting it with a rundown of useful—and often obscure—tips for reducing home-power consumption. Older buildings commonly hemorrhage energy because of poor insulation, old wiring, and outdated lighting. Outfitting them with energy-conserving features is a considerable issue in such areas as Pittsburgh, where many buildings and homes were built before 1940. More information on the 2008 winners is available on Pitt’s Web site at

Based in Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering, the Mascaro Center specializes in sustainable design and engineering, particularly the development of sustainable neighborhoods. The center encourages and nurtures collaborative projects that translate the fundamental science of sustainability into real products and processes that positively impact the environment and improve the quality of life. Projects include greening the built environment, developing more sustainable water use, and designing distributed power systems.