When European countries are done using their computers, cell phones and other technology, a large chunk of it winds up on west African shores, where locals regularly burn the e-waste’s internal cables to unveil the copper inside. They can then sell the copper at a profit.
But with that profit comes a cost that some would say is greater than what the burn workers are actually being paid. Those who burn these wires are causing great harm to their health and the environment. The burning of cables is a primary source of dioxin emissions, which can pollute the global food chain, according to the United Nations Environment Programme. Cable dismantling is most hazardous to children, who are often used as laborers at burn sites, UNEP says.
One UK engineer thinks he found a solution to burning all together. Esource, a wire separator created by Hal Watts, is entirely bicycle propelled, eliminating the need for burns and thereby cutting health and environmental risks almost entirely.
Ghana receives 85 percent of its e-waste imports from Europe and around 40,000 Ghanaians depend on a profit from that imported waste. It’s an import/export idea that could potentially be mutually beneficial for both parties, which is where the Ecycle comes in.
The machine consists of a shredder and a sorter. First, the user would insert plastic covered wires into the shredder. By using nothing but human power, the stationary bike shreds the wire into plastic and copper particles. The sorter separates each material, finally giving the user 98 percent pure copper. The plastic nuggets provide a new, separate source of income, Watts says on his website.
The Ecycled wire can be sold for 20 percent more than singed, burnt copper. Watts says the design will be available to African workshops, which will produce the machines to be sold to recyclers.