Electronic waste is the worst waste to deal with. It is terrible for the environment. You can’t just put it in a recycling bin. And even if you do recycle it “properly,” much of it ends up in developing countries, poisoning people. But this pedal-powered prototype could make disposing of e-waste safer, easier, and cleaner.

Engineer Rachel Field saw firsthand how “recycling” can mean “people in countries poorer than the United States burning electronic waste to extract the metals.” She was visiting Accra, Ghana, and came across an e-waste dump, Fast Company says:

Field, a 22-year-old engineering graduate, was shocked. “Across from the market was housing, and the river was completely polluted. 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.”

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Now she’s working on a system, which she calls the Bicyclean, that would allow workers to extract the valuable part of e-waste without creating so much pollution. It’s basically a grinder, attached to a bike. Pedal the bike, and the grinder grinds up circuit boards. A magnet pulls the desirable metal parts out, and an electromagnetic current sweeps away the rest.

It’s just a prototype so far, and it’s not clear how expensive it would be to buy one of these. (E-waste recycling isn’t exactly known as a super-lucrative profession.) But it’s exactly the sort of simple solution that can make electronic recycling actually good for the planet and people, instead of just a convenient way to let rich people pretend they’re being responsible when they toss out their iPhone 4Ses and get a 5.

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