Scrappy Earth Day

There’s so much good cheer in China these last few days, I managed to totally overlook the fact that today – April 22 – is Earth Day. So, in the spirit of trying to find something positive to say in an increasingly poisonous environment (let me count the ways), I will – as Earth Day ticks away in Shanghai – post some good environmental news related to China.

Namely, the vibrating water table.

And no, I’m not talking about the evening entertainment at the last Chinese scrap processor’s convention (that’s for the memoir). I’m talking about one of these:

Now pay careful attention. In the background, you’ll note a large pile of very fine insulated copper wires. Because of their size, these are too small to strip by hand or mechanically (though I’ve seen it done). So, until roughly five years ago, Chinese scrap yards would recover the copper by setting fire to the wires, thus releasing all kinds of toxins into the air.

Enter the vibrating water table.

Above the table, you’ll note a metal device painted green. That’s a granulator, and its job is to chop the wire into pieces so small that the copper basically falls out of the plastic. Next, the reduced, separated pieces are dumped onto a vibrating table washed with a light flow of water. As they move – slowly – down the table, guided by grooves and the magic of specific gravities, the plastic pieces separate from the copper ones, eventually rolling into two recovery bins.

Why is this good? First, instead of producing one recyclable product, this method produces two: copper and plastic. Second, it’s a decidedly low-tech, low-cost environmental solution that can be purchased and deployed by the small-scale recyclers who dominate China’s low-grade scrap recovery industry (that’s the industry that does all the polluting you hear about). Third, this technology can be applied to other low-grade materials, such as circuit boards (very commonly) and even common trash. And finally, it doesn’t involve releasing toxins into the air.

Thus, it is – definitively – good news for China’s environment.

So happy Earth Day.

[Addendum 4/23: Being that it was Earth Day, I really should have given another plug to the terrific Environmental Law Blog. If you care about China’s environment – and the occasional rare and useful translation of its environmental laws – then that’s the blog for you. Really essential stuff.]

3 thoughts on “Scrappy Earth Day

  1. Recall one of the recent National Geographics had a spread about all the electronic device trash ending far away in places like africa where people would burn the material to recover copper and other materials. the vibrating water table would be a more suitable export than the ship load of ak-47s they attempted to ship to africa

  2. Great thing about the water tables, too, is that all you have to do is change the specific gravity of the water and you can sort other things. My husband’s father used a nearly identical (though much larger) set-up to sort soft and hard coal in the strip mines 40-50 years ago.

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