Closing the loop and clearing the path toward sustainable telecoms

Closing the loop and clearing the path toward sustainable telecoms

July 17, 2019
Marcia González

A Dutch company called Closing the Loop is trying to boost phone recycling with a simple scheme and it has persuaded Samsung and T-Mobile to try it out

A few years ago, an Amsterdam, Netherlands-based social enterprise came up with the idea to ‘compensate’ the raw material footprint of a phone. Recently, it was announced that the whole Dutch government and market leader Samsung are adopting the offsetting method developed by E-Waste World Conference & Expo 2019 speaker Closing the Loop (CTL). The company aims to take on the fastest-growing waste stream in the world: electronic waste.

Last year, research showed that the telecoms sector has one painfully visible shortcoming: only 25% of our phones are being recycled, leaving 1.5 billion phones in landfills each year. A challenge one company felt could be solved with Dutch knowledge about closing loops, also known as ‘circularity’.

The Netherlands had a worldwide scoop in 2018, when Dutch consumers were the first to be given the opportunity to purchase a device in a ‘circular’ way. This happened when T-Mobile became the first mobile operator to collaborate with CTL, the winner of the Dutch ‘Circular Award 2018’. The concept is straightforward: one can compensate for the purchase of a new mobile phone, in the Netherlands, by collecting and recycling a scrap phone. The scrap comes from a country that is struggling with e-waste, such as Ghana, Cameroon and Nigeria.

The Dutch central government sees the approach of CTL as an effective way of combining international business and social performance. And so, from now on, all civil servants will have material-neutral – or compensated – phones. For every device the government buys, CTL buys and recycles one African scrap phone. This work stimulates local entrepreneurship and prevents problems related to e-waste such as pollution and health issues.

What is clear in Nigeria, in particular, it’s not just about ambition, but also about very tangible results. Dutch Foreign Affairs Minister Sigrid Kaag was present in Lagos a few weeks ago to endorse the shipment of a first container with defective phone batteries from Nigeria. They were collected by CTL and soon to be recycled in Europe so that the raw materials can be used again. “Reusing materials from a used phone is crucial to be circular in the long term and to contribute to responsible consumption and production,” commented Marianne Phernambucq, corporate sustainability manager of the Dutch Foreign Affairs ministry. “CTL does this in a thorough and innovative way. I am happy that this government is including this service.”

CTL’s approach and service hadn’t exactly gone unnoticed in the telecoms world. Material offsetting was recognized earlier this year as one of the world’s best ‘green’ solutions for mobile phones at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

Now, CTL has reported an industry-changing development: the global market leader for mobile phones will offset a phone it sells in The Netherlands. The Samsung S10E will be the first device to be compensated by both T-Mobile and Samsung, which means that the purchase of that model directly leads to less e-waste in developing countries. “As the market leader in mobile telecoms, it is important that we take our responsibility,” enthused Gerben van Walt Meijer from Samsung Netherlands. “I’m glad this service allows us to contribute even more to a circular economy, together with these great partners.”

“The phone is an iconic product that deserves a much better end than being dumped on a mountain of waste,” concluded Joost de Kluijver, director of Closing the Loop, who will be one of more than 80 speakers at the inaugural E-Waste World Conference & Expo, taking place in Frankfurt on 14-15 November 2019. “This is new proof that the telecoms sector can become waste-free. Compensation of telephones is on its way to become the new standard in this great sector.”

E-Waste World Conference & Expo will take place from Thursday 14 November to Friday 15 November at the Kap Europa, Frankfurt Messe, Germany. To register for this highly focused, solutions-driven event, please click here. For sponsorship and exhibition opportunities, please email peter@trans-globalevents.com

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