Safe re-cycling
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Safe re-cycling

27 June 2012

A university student has come up with a novel solution to tackle the dangerous practice of burning electrical cable to extract the copper wire.

Royal College of Art student Hal Watts has come up with a bicycle-powered waste separator called Esource that extracts copper from electronic wires without the need for burning.


Electrical and electronic waste (WEEE) is the fastest growing waste stream worldwide. The UK illegally exports 70% of its WEEE, largely to the west coast of Africa. One of the biggest centres for WEEE imports is Accra in Ghana, where some 40,000 people are dependant on informal recycling to earn a living. Every day young people risk their health and pollute the air by burning electronic waste imported from Europe to reclaim the valuable copper inside.


burning ewaste

Presented at the Innovation Design Engineering Masters degree show, Esource comprises a cable shredder and a sorter powered

by bicycle.




‘The sorter works using the same method as in gold panning machines,’ Watts tells LS:N Global. ‘As the basin rotates, the copper particles work their way up the spiral and are collected in the centre. The water washes out the lighter plastic particles before they can get to the centre of the spiral.’

Not only does the system eradicate the harmful fumes caused by burning the plastic, but the copper extracted is also worth 20% more because it is not charred. The designs will be made available to local workshops who would produce and sell the machines to recyclers.


How it works:

The bike is mounted on a frame so that the recycler simply pedals to power the orange shredder as it grinds wires into a mixture of plastic and copper particles.


shredder   Esource


The particles then go into the metal separator, which removes the plastic and leads to a yield of 98% pure copper.




The unburnt copper can be sold for 20% more than burnt copper, while the plastic granules provide a new source of income.

Click here to watch a video showing how the Esource works.

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