Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE or Escrap) is one of the fastest growing wastes in the world. A huge amount of it ends up in third world countries, where it is scavenged and burned to extract the precious metal content, exposing the workers to extremely harmful chemicals
Hal Watts, a designer and recent graduate of the Imperial College in London is looking to change the process for recovering metals from cables, which is a significant component of WEEE
In 2011, he spent a week at an e-waste dump in Accra, Ghana, where he observed the burning process firsthand “A lot of these people depend on burning cables as their primary income, but it’s the most health-damaging WEEE issue,” says Watts, who was recently nominated for design of the year by the Design Museum in London.
Hal has developed a device that he calls Esource ,which started out as his final project at Imperial College and includes two components: a bicycle-powered granulator that pulverizes the copper and its plastic coating into a fine fraction, and a sorter, which separates the copper from the plastic.
After the granulating cycle, water is poured over a spinning spiral, which is powered by a pump on the bike, copper particles gravitate to the middle and are separated from the plastics. While the copper is the most valuable fraction from the process, the clean plastics can also be reused
To use the process, a stand is folded out under the bicycle and the cable is fed into the attached granulator. Pedalling the bicycle operates the granulator and grinds the cables into a copper and plastic fraction, which are then placed in the separator. Water is then poured over the rotating spiral, the materials are separated by density and the copper gravitates slowly to the centre of the spiral and into the pan. “To build something cheaply, you often have to go back and look at older technologies,” he says, and the old method of panning for Gold was the inspiration for this part of the process
The machines are designed to be manufactured and maintained locally in Country. Un-burnt copper can be sold for up to 20% more than burnt, providing a better income for workers and much healthier working conditions. The designs will be made available to local workshops that would produce and sell the machines to recyclers, creating a system that would be very affordable and economically viable
I am really impressed with this innovation as it could go a long way in helping to move the “Recyclers” from the dumps into a more sustainable and financially viable process , recovering the valuable materials from WEEE without damaging the health of the people who need the income.
I have commented continuously in this blog about dumping illegal waste in Africa. See our blog section on “Illegal Exports of WEEE”
Congratulation Hal Watts, I am really impressed
See more about Hal here