Decoding Design

Designer creates bicycle-powered electronic waste recycler

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The system intends to combat the environmentally hazardous and unhealthy practice of burning wire to separate copper from plastic.

In the digital age, electronic and electrical waste is the fastest growing type of waste in the world. This problem was the inspiration behind an ingenious design from Royal College of the Arts graduate Hal Watts on display at Show RCA 2012 that runs through the end of the month.

The problem with this waste, said the designer, is that many countries illegally export their electronic waste to Africa, where many people are economically dependent on informal recycling. The UK exports 70% of its electric and electronic waste, most of it to the west coast of Africa. In Ghana alone, approximately 40,000 people depend on the recycling of this waste for its copper to be resold.

The current method to extract the copper is the burning of the electrical wire to get rid of the insulation and expose the copper inside. " This is mostly carried out by teenagers and has terrible consequences on their respiratory and immune systems," explains Watts, and  "it also leads to dioxin releases equivalent to 15% of the whole of Europe."

The design, called Esource, is a bicycle-powered electronic waste recycling device to replace the practice of burning the electric waste. The bike is mounted on a frame so that the user just pedals to power the orange shredder as it grinds the wired into a mix of plastic and copper.

From there, the mix goes into a metal separator, that uses water to remove the plastic and leads to a yield of 98% pure copper, which can be sold more 20% more than copper that has been burnt. And this way, the plastic particles can be used as an alternate source of income.

The machines were designed so they could be manufactured and maintained locally, and the designs will be made available to local workshops who can produce and sell them.

More photos and a video below:


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Images: Hal Watts

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Beth Carter

Contributing Editor

Beth Carter is a freelance journalist based in San Francisco. She has worked for Catalyst magazine, the New York Times Syndicate, BBC Travel and Wired. She holds degrees from the University of Oregon and New York University. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure