She says it was "almost a surreal place to be. [There were] mountains of refrigerators, computers, and cell phones, literally piled up outside." Scores of people were taking everything apart, often manually—mostly looking for copper.
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."
Her solution is a standing bike with the back taken out and replaced with an enclosed grinder-and-separation system. You push bits of circuit-board down a shoot, and onto a grinding mill (probably made of coarse cement), which then shoots out ground up fragments of e-waste. Magnets collect the ferrous metals, while an electromagnetic current pushes away non-ferrous metals (this "eddy" current is created, by the bike, below the grinder).
It’s a cheap, achievable system. "The idea is that, because all this is happening in the enclosed chamber, it is better for the environment, and for the health of the user. It also gives better yields, and is better than their current processes."
The Harvard graduate is excited that the Bicyclean is a contender in the Dyson Awards, which announces its next round this week. She’s already shown that a needlessly harmful process can be made more healthy, with simple tech available almost anywhere.