Pragmatic circularity for smartphones

Some 2 billion mobile phones are sold across the world every year. They bring us information, merit and joy. But our devices have 2 major flaws. First of all, their procurement cannot be done in a sustainable manner. Also, the products often end up in electronic waste streams at the end of their lifecycle. Dutch company Closing the Loop has developed a ‘closed loop’ service that turns those problems into one solution. Its circularity-as-a-service-programme proved to be a huge opportunity for business and society.

Closing the Loop: Recycling Mobile Phones

Closing the Loop turns e-waste reduction into customer value through a service it refers to as One-for-One. The service revolves around circular offsetting where recovered materials – including precious metals – from scrap phones are used to offset new ones. The company collects and buys the broken phones in emerging economies, who have an abundance of e-waste.

First step towards green IT

Currently, sustainable procurement for phones is not facilitated. At the same time a growing group of consumers, but most of all business – look for ways to buy and use their devices in a greener way. However, virtually all gadget buyers are reluctant to choose sustainability over usability. Combine these facts and the need for pragmatic - or entry-level - green procurement becomes clear for technology.

Which is what Closing the Loop delivers. The basic set up of the company’s service is quite straight forward. When a customer buys a new mobile phone, a small offsetting fee is added to the purchase price. Closing the Loop uses the fee to place an “offset order” with one of their partners in a collection country, for instance Ghana. That fee funds the recycling of a discarded African phone. Recycling clearly creates positive impact, but it also allows the customer to engage in green or circular procurement in an appealing, tangible and easy way. Circularity for beginners, so to say.

Effective, inclusive waste collection with a goal

Closing the Loop collects scrap from local repair shops and other informal channels process in Africa. Its work involves subcontractors, which creates job growth and income for the local communities, while reduction waste and pollution. After collection, the end-of-life phones are shipped to Europe where the waste is recycled into metals. Since 2012, Closing the Loop collected over 2.5 million discarded phones together with its partners in Africa.

The company’s ambition is to make e-waste recycling available, in Africa. the telecom industry waste-free, while adding social and financial value to a phone's life cycle. They also aim to create an eco-system that allows for local recycling creating even more job growth and economic opportunity in Africa.

Dutch government

The Dutch government buys 30,000 new mobile phones every year. It is part of the government’s goal to make its digital footprint more circular. The Dutch government does already give a second lease of life to their old electronic devices. Certified companies are required to recycle the devices that have become obsolete. The government’s ICT department has signed an agreement with Closing the Loop to compensate all their new smartphones. This means that when the government buys a new phone in the Netherlands, Closing the Loop offsets that phone by collecting and recycling an African scrap phone: One-for-One.

Circular economy

The Dutch government has pledged to meet a 100% circular economy by 2050. In one generation, 9 billion people will inhabit this planet. This will put pressure on the earth’s resources. Societies have to step up their game and switch to sustainable sources to feed, clothe and shelter their growing populations. To leave behind a liveable earth, this generation has to learn how to use its scarce raw materials more effectively. From the view point of Closing the loop, its business model is all about creating a future-proof world.