The Unites States generates more electronic waste than any other nation on earth. According to the EPA, more than 4.6 million tons entered domestic landfills in 2000, and 50-80% of our total e-waste is exported to developing nations where defunct electronics wind up in dumps, polluting the environment, and littering neighborhoods. That’s why 22-year-old engineering graduate Rachel Field has invented the Bicyclean – a pedal-powered grinder and e-waste separation system. Small-scale, affordable, and socially responsible, the Bicylean is a current contender for the James Dyson Award.
Engineer Rachel Field was inspired to create the Bicyclean after a visit to an e-waste dump near the Agbogbloshie market in Ghana during January of 2012. Computers, refrigerators, and cell phones were piled high into mountains around the community. Pickers would go through the garbage, looking for precious metals to salvage and sell. The recyclers trying to extract the valuable metals within come into contact with a host of dangerous materials during the dismantling process. Additionally, the nearby river was completely polluted with trash, heavy metals, and chemicals, but as Field observed, “The impact on the site is pretty toxic, and people know that the air they are breathing is bad. But they’ve got to make a living.”
In an effort to reduce exposure to harmful substances, Field built the Bicyclean, a standing bicycle with the rear end modified to to become a pedal-powered separation system. E-waste is pushed through a feed tube onto a grinding mill which pulverizes the material into small pieces. The fragments then flow over a small eddy current rotor positioned underneath the grinding wheel powered by a 3:1 gear ratio. The fluctuating magnetic fields of the rotor pushes away conducting metals, but has no effect on non-metals. Each of the metal pieces are thrown horizontally, and collect at the bottom of a sealed collecting tray. The entire design requires no external electricity, and is made from components that are easily obtainable in Ghana.