Today, some 735,000 end-of-life phones filling two sea containers arrive in Antwerp. Closing the Loop (CTL), a Dutch social enterprise aiming to create more sustainable telecom use has partnered with several organizations to collect these phones in Rwanda and Uganda. The phones will be transferred to CTL’s partner Sims Recycling Solutions (SRS) and professionally recycled, injecting valuable and scarce materials such as gold, copper and tin back into the electronics supply chain.
CTL’s innovative approach aims to boost local economies in emerging markets through context-driven collection schemes. This reduces the environmental impact of electronic waste and prevents health issues that come from burning electronics to retrieve materials.
“We want to provide the global electronics industry with sustainably sourced materials as well as clean up electronic waste in countries that currently don’t have the means to responsibly recycle mobile phones”, says Joost de Kluijver, CEO and founder of Closing the Loop. “This project is important because it shows that organizations are willing to invest in taking responsibility beyond their own use.”
The countries where CTL is active in Africa often function as second-hand markets for mobile phones from around the globe. The governments are not equipped, however, to deal with the phones once they are beyond usage, resulting in waste piles and enormous amounts of environmental damage and related health issues. Without existing awareness, policy or infrastructure that determine how to deal with e-waste, CTL often needs to build up its social businesses from scratch. Logistics for these projects take time and often result in delays due to extensive paperwork. After three years, CTL reports that it has managed to save a total of 1.3 million end-of-life phones from ending up at the dump.
Part of the financial and logistical support for this project comes from customers and partners such as SRS, Samsung, Fairphone, ING Bank and Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. Another full container with over 500,000 phones is currently waiting in Zambia for transport and is expected to arrive later this year. The money made from selling these materials to the commodity market will be used to pay the African collectors for a new batch of end-of-life phones, scaling up the projects step-by-step.
“This milestone helps us achieve our target to take back as many phones as we put in the market. CTL is truly helping its partners to contribute to a real circular economy while alleviating the e-waste issue in countries with no collection infrastructure", says Miquel Ballester, Resource Efficiency Manager for Fairphone who was present today.
To scale up its impact even further, CTL has co-designed a program with SRS called Rethink, which enables public and private organisations to implement a responsible use, re-use and disposal policy for their mobile phone usage. Michiel Dijkman, Samsung Electronics’ Head of Corporate Affairs for the Benelux reached out to say: “Samsung greatly values initiatives that lead to more recycling and waste reduction in the mobile phone industry. We share CTL’s vision of making the mobile phone industry waste-free and will look at possibilities for our organisations to work together, such as with the Rethink program.”