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Nov 12th
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Home Our Missions Environmental Protection Recycling Made Easier - The Stripper

Recycling Made Easier - The Stripper

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The Stripper
A Wire-Stripping Machine Renders

Used Wires More Valuable

All modern households are filled with electric appliances and gadgets of all types. Each appliance or electronic device comes with its own cords and power cables. When the appliances and gadgets are thrown away, so are their accompanying wires and cables. Remnant wire from industry is also very common and takes up precious space in already overcrowded landfills. For the benefit of our environment, it is essential that electric wire is recycled along with paper, bottles, and plastic containers.

The first step in recycling wire is to separate the outer insulation coating from the inner metal core. There are two main ways that this can be accomplished.

Some unscrupulous establishments purchase unprocessed wire and burn it to melt away the coating from the valuable metal underneath. This method is very harmful to the environment: The burning insulation releases toxic fumes into the atmosphere, harming the earth and its inhabitants.

Tzu Chi recycling stations process wire differently. Instead of burning it, a volunteer first untangles and straightens it out. Next, a lengthwise cut is made in the outer insulation with a paper cutter or a knife. Once that is done, the plastic coating can be peeled away from the metal core. The method is environmentally friendly, but very time-consuming. It can also be dangerous: Small injuries and skin cuts are common as volunteers work to strip the insulation away from the wire underneath.

Cai Zong-yuan (蔡宗源), a volunteer working at the Bagualiao Tzu Chi Recycling Station in southern Taiwan, has heard his share of complaints from other volunteers suffering from minor cuts. Since Cai specializes in manufacturing machinery, he thought that his expertise might help devise a solution.

Although ready-made wire strippers are commercially available, they tend be large, sophisticated, and expensive. They are also all driven by electric motors. Although powerful and productive, electric models would tend to run faster, and Cai felt that a manual wire stripper would be safer. An electrical wire stripper would require a good deal of training, but Cai figured that many volunteers would be using the new device without much training. A manual device would be easier for an untrained volunteer to operate.

Furthermore, a good portion of the volunteers are senior citizens, who tend to be less agile. Cai reasoned that older volunteers might not have the manual dexterity necessary to safely operate an electric model. A manual device might provide them with more control.

Cai set out to design from scratch a wire stripper that would fit the needs of Tzu Chi volunteers. He succeeded in creating one in 2003. The device has worked so well that he has made more copies for other Tzu Chi recycling stations throughout Taiwan. In fact, he has given away 150 strippers so far, and demand for more is high.

It costs Cai about NT$5,000 (US$150) to buy the materials for one wire stripper. He has pledged to donate 200 of them to Tzu Chi recycling stations, making his total donation one million NT dollars (US$30,300), a threshold that will earn him a seat on Tzu Chi's Honorary Board of Directors (patrons who have donated a million dollars or more).

Cai's stripper neatly slices a fissure in the insulation coating of the wire. It is safe, easy, fast, and even fun to use. Once the insulation is cut, it can easily be peeled off to yield two items--the insulation and the metal--both ready for recycling. Many workers have used his device and can vouch for its handiness and safety. As more recycling stations adopt Cai's wire stripper, the productivity and satisfaction among Tzu Chi recycling volunteers grows.

Here is a sample of what Cai's fellow volunteers at the Bagualiao Recycling Station say about the stripper:

Guo Ying-mei (郭英美): We used to have to squat when we separated the coating from the metal. Squatting down for an extended period of time made our joints stiff. It was hard to stand back up, and we got light-headed after standing up too fast. These problems have all been resolved since we started using the wire stripper.

Shen Zheng-yi (沈正義): Although the stripper is well designed and built, it still takes time and practice to operate proficiently. You need to maintain just the right amount of tension between the cutting edge and the surface of the wire: not too tight and not too loose. If you set the tension too tight, the handle is too hard to crank and the cutting edge wears down too quickly. If you set the tension too low, you can't slice open a fissure deep enough to separate the coating from the metal core.

Liu Su-qin (劉素琴): It is important to keep the cutting edge of the stripper in good condition. In order to prolong the life of the cutting edge and prevent it from becoming dull, I always use the machine with the utmost care. For example, I set the tension at the lowest possible setting that is still sufficient to create a deep enough cut in the insulation. I also immediately reposition the cutting edge if it is off center and oil the gears regularly. I really treasure this piece of equipment. It has helped transform otherwise useless wires and cables into a gold mine. I call it a "gold-giving machine."


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