Esource by Hal Watts
at Show RCA 2012


Royal College of Art graduate Hal Watts has come up with a bicycle-powered electronic waste recycler that could save lives in developing countries (+ movie).

Esource by Hal Watts

In Ghana for example, young people risk their health and pollute the air by burning electronic waste imported from Europe to reclaim the valuable copper inside.

Esource by Hal Watts

In response to this problem, Watts has come up with a bicycle-powered waste separator that extracts copper from electronic wires without the need for burning.

Esource by Hal Watts

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.

Esource by Hal Watts

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

Esource by Hal Watts

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

Esource by Hal Watts

Watts graduated from the college's Innovation Design Engineering course and Esource is on display at Show RCA 2012, which continues until 1 July.

Esource by Hal Watts

See more stories from Show RCA 2012 here and watch course leader Miles Pennington give a tour of the show here.

Here's some more information from the designer:

The Problem:
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.

One of the worst practices in Accra is the burning of electrical wire to get rid of the insulation and recover the copper within. This is mostly carried out by teenagers and has terrible consequences on their respiratory and immune systems, it also leads to dioxin releases equivalent to 15% of the whole of Europe.

The solution:
Esource provides a sustainable cable recycling system for small scale recyclers in developing countries. It consists of an innovative bicycle powered cable granulator and a novel approach to separating copper and plastic using water. The machines are designed to be manufactured and maintained 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 who would produce and sell the machines to recyclers creating a system that would be economically driven to spread.

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  • H-J

    Tackling real problems that have a direct positive impact on the user and the environment, very refreshing…

  • whyowhy

    If nothing else Watts highlighted a real problem ;) But I reckon this pedal powered tool is easier/quicker to use than a wire stripper for a big bulk of cables. So stop being so negative.

  • hal

    Hi Alexandre,

    Yes I have, but they are way way too slow to ever be an economically viable solution and they aren't very effective with ribbon cables or multi core cables, which is what a lot of these cables are. The quantities they have to deal with are just too large.


  • Yass

    This is obviously a very well researched project that deals with a serious issue affecting a lot of people primarily in Africa. The project proposes a very low-tech solution that in my opinion is feasible and intelligent, with the clear aim of making these peoples lives better as well as impacting positively on the environment.

    I have a hard time understanding people like you Alex, who have the audacity to label a project like this ‘stupid’ and a ‘joke’. The intentions of the project itself, when considering the scale and complexity of the issue it deals with, should as a minimum be applauded and not ridiculed. It is clear for me that the designer has taken time out to go to Ghana and witness these problems firsthand and has subsequently proposed a solution that according to his research makes sense.

    You may not agree with what the designer has proposed, but at least show some respect to what the designer set out to do, which is to make peoples lives better. Something you can definitely not dispute.

  • spence.

    Nice idea. I’d like to see a prototype made from typical 3rd world metal shop hand tools. Also, is the bike necessary? If you look at knife sharpeners in India, they use a very simple bike wheel and foot-lever device – much cheaper than a bicycle.

  • hal

    Hi Alexandre,

    Nice to hear from you again. The system actually produces no waste as the plastic and copper are cleanly separated and can be sold, the copper for 20% more and the plastic for roughly £200 per ton. This is a huge increase in income for the people currently burning and a much healthier life style. The setup only costs £75 to build.

    Also the sorter does not require large amounts of water, it is just circulated around the device meaning that you would only need five litres of water to run the sorter, and this does not need to be particularly clean water.

    All the best,