Recyhub presented in Shanghai to an audience of worldwide young scientists

StEP are the initials for “Solving the E-waste Problem”. This initiative, led by the United Nations University, brings together twice a year experts from the field in order to share the latest developments with two approaches: policy makers and SMEs talk about the practical applications, and scientists discuss in more academic terms.

Recyhub was invited to the Scientist Edition, celebrated in Shanghai during the first week of November ‘14, together with another 14 young scientists in the field. We presented the following article: Pedal-powered cable shredding: an alternative to cable burning with the following presentation.

Participating in this event allowed us to communicate our research to a high profile audience and to learn lots from fellows. The organisation, run by UNU’s Deepali Sinha-Khetriwal and Claudia Luepschen, made this great experience possible, hosted by the Basel Convention Regional Centre in Shanghai.

Our work was the only one presented that was focused on Africa, and it was very well received. The fact that Makerspaces are central in this model was considered by Professor Emeritus Ab Stevels as a potential change of paradigm in dealing with e-waste. It seemed that one aspect that makes our project unique is to consider the informal sector as a partner and as an active protagonist in improving their own future.

Many very interesting discussions took place during that week. We would like to highlight those that are more related with our work and approach:

Uttra Benton presented a method for rapid pyrolisis of Printed Circuit Boards developed at the University of New South Wales in Australia. This method produces some metal droplets that are red (rich in copper) and others white (rich in tin). At 1350ºC lead evaporates and is recovered by filters, and the inert atmosphere in which the process is carried out prevents the loss of carbon.

Mohit Arora, a student from the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, presented his work on a hydrometallurgical method for metal recovery of circuit boards. It’s based on the needs of the informal sector in India and achieves high rates of metal recovery (Cu >96%, Ag>99%). This could eventually become one tool for Recyhub to have.

Jessica Ricther is a PhD candidate at Lund University. She studies lamps and their recycling, and has the following advice: due to the high costs of dealing with the mercury present on long life lamps, it makes more sense to leapfrog to LEDs. Especially so for Africa because of the lack of infrastructure to extract mercury from waste lamps, a process that is not profitable.

Benjamin Hale made the following question: why is e-waste a problem? Althought some times we might take it for granted, everyone can have a different answer. Ben is an Associate Professor at the University of Boulder, Colorado, and a specialist in ethics and environment and brings “environmental justice” to the debate.

Chinese e-waste recyclers don’t burn cables to extract copper. Why is that? Apparently because someone is buying the plastics, and this generates a market push against burning. This insight can be crucial for our work in Ghana, and in order to learn more we will follow University of Oxford Carlo Ferri’s work with the informal e-waste recycling sector in China.

How does a wasteland look like from the air? Nicholas Jonhson inflates a balloon with helium, sends it up with a camera attached, and finds out. His research is based on collaborative experiences about waste, and integrated with aerial images and cartography tools. Could he eventually fly his balloon in Agbogbloshie?

In summary EWAS 2014 was a very fruitful opportunity to meet people, discuss ideas, and test our approach.