People Power

Modified Bicycles Recycle Electronic Waste




Harvard graduate Rachel Field, 22, has invented the Bicyclean device, a contender for an international James Dyson Award recognizing the next generation of design engineers. The Bicyclean helps people in Third World countries separate valuable recyclable materials from the mountains of refrigerators, computers, cell phones and other electronic e-waste dumped in their “backyards” by richer nations. She aims to show that the needlessly harmful process can be made healthier, using simple bicycle technology that can be implemented virtually anywhere.

Her solution is to stand up a bike in the normal position, but with the back wheel removed and replaced with an enclosed, pedal-powered, grinder-and-separation system. Pushing bits of circuit board down an attached chute onto a grinding mill of coarse cement ejects crushed e-waste fragments. Magnets collect the ferrous metals, and a battery-powered electromagnetic current pushes away non-ferrous metals. The device is more sustainable, plus it deposits and emits much less pollution into nearby waterways and air than other methods.

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