A few years ago, an Amsterdam based social enterprise came up with the idea to "compensate" the raw material footprint of a phone. This week it was announced that the whole Dutch government and market leader Samsung are adopting the offsetting method, developed by Closing the Loop. The company aims to take on the fastest growing waste stream in the world: electronic waste.
Last year, research showed that the telecom sector has one painfully visible shortcoming: only 25% of our phones are being recycled. Leaving 1.5 billion phones on landfills, each year. A challenge one company felt could be solved with Dutch knowledge about closing loops, also known as ‘circularity’.
A first in the Netherlands
The Netherlands had a worldwide scoop in 2018. Last year, 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 Closing the Loop (CTL), the winner of the Dutch "Circular Award 2018". The concept is straight forward: 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 electronic waste, or e-waste - the world’s fastest growing waste stream. Countries like 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. Which works like this: for every device the government buys, CTL buys and recycles one African scrap phone. CTL’s work stimulates local entrepreneurship and prevents problems related to e-waste such as pollution and health issues.
It became clear today in Nigeria that it is not just about ambition, but also about very tangible results. Dutch Foreign Affairs Minister Kaag was present in Lagos to endorse the shipment of a first container with defective phone batteries from Nigeria. Collected by CTL, and soon to be recycled in Europe, so that the raw materials can be used again. Marianne Phernambucq, Corporate Sustainability Manager of the Dutch Foreign Affairs ministry says: ”Reusing materials from a used phone is crucial to be circular in the long term and to contribute to responsible consumption and production. 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 telecom world. Material offsetting was recognised earlier this year as one of the world’s best "green" solutions for mobile phones, at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
Today, CTL is reporting 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. This means that the purchase of that model directly leads to less e-waste in developing countries. Gerben van Walt Meijer, from Samsung Netherlands: "As the market leader in mobile telecom, it is important that we take our responsibility. I'm glad this service allows us to contribute even more to a circular economy, together with these great partners.''
Joost de Kluijver, Director of Closing the Loop sees this as new proof that the telecom sector can become waste-free. “The phone is an iconic product that deserves a much better end than being dumped on a mountain of waste. Compensation of telephones is on its way to become the new standard in this great sector. "