Bike-Powered Recycling System Could Clean Up E-Waste Industry

Developing countries are overflowing with the cast-off electronics of the Western world. In poverty-stricken areas, recycling this e-waste is the only way some people can afford to live. They scour mountains of waste looking for electronic devices that can be broken down, their precious metals and other valuable components extracted and sold back into the loop.

Without proper tools or safety equipment to facilitate this recycling, most of these people simply melt devices down over open flames. This eliminates the plastic shells, making it easier to access the valuable elements within. Unfortunately, this is a dangerous practice which sends clouds of toxic pollutants into the atmosphere. To reduce health risks without banning villagers from recycling, an engineer and industrial designer came up with a bike-powered solution that just might work.

esource-bike-recycler

Image via Hal Watts

Made from an old bicycle fitted with a special pedal-powered cable granulator, Esource gives individual recyclers a way to extract copper from electrical wires without burning the plastic. Wires are fed into the granulator while someone pedals the bicycle. Using water and a unique grinding tool the plastic is stripped away from the electrical wire, leaving the copper in tact.

The UK illegally exports 70 percent of its electronic waste, largely to the west coast of Africa. One of the biggest centres for e-waste imports is Accra in Ghana, where some 40,000 people are dependant on informal recycling.

“The machines are designed to be manufactured and maintained in country,” writes Watt on his website. “Un-burnt copper can be sold for up to 20% more than burnt, providing a better income for workers and much healthier working conditions.” According to Watt, most electrical wire burning is carried out by teenagers and has terrible consequences on their respiratory and immune systems.

It’s possible that Esource could benefit the local economy even more if the designs are made available to local workshops who would produce and sell the machines to recyclers.

Beth Buczynski is a freelancer writer and editor currently living in the Rocky Mountain West. Her articles appear on Care2, Ecosalon and Inhabitat, just to name a few. So far, Beth has lived in or near three major U.S. mountain ranges, and is passionate about protecting the important ecosystems they represent. Follow Beth on Twitter as @ecosphericblog