Vodafone’s One for One phone recycling program brings old phones back to life

An unfortunate consequence of our collective lust for shiny new gadgets is a growing mountain (sometimes literally) of electronic waste. Far too many of our devices are difficult to recycle, and so much of our e-waste ends up in landfillswhere toxic chemicals can seep into the ground and contaminate the local water supply.

The Global E-waste Statistics Partnership estimates that we produce more than 50 million tons of e-waste each year and recycle only 20 percent. We throw away phones, monitors and countless other devices that may be refurbished and put back into service or disassembled to harvest the useful materials within.

But how can manufacturers be persuaded to get involved? waste compensation company Closing the loop (CTL) connects technology manufacturers with local communities to consume technology more sustainably. Today, the company announced its agreement with Vodafone in Germany, where the telecommunications company promises that “for every mobile phone sold to private customers, we will put an old one back into circulation.”

Money for old phones

Vodafone plans to do this, among other things, through the One for One initiative, where CTL buys end-of-life devices that are completely unusable or irreparable, using collection networks mainly located in Ghana, Nigeria and Cameroon. Rather than ending up in landfills, these devices are professionally recycled to extract gold, silver, copper, and cobalt that can go back into circulation.

A few years ago, CTL collaborated with Samsung and T-Mobile on a similar plan, but on a much smaller scale the Galaxy S10e in the Netherlands† It has also partnered with KPMG, the Dutch government and Expereo, but this Vodafone deal is the largest to date. It promises to recycle at least 1 million old mobile phones every year.

“How do you make the reduction of electronic waste commercially attractive to people?” asks Joost de Kluijver, director of CTL. “We want to interest commercial people in sustainability.”

De Kluijver is convinced that the path to better recycling is to build a business case that can boost formal collection, creating demand for more e-waste to be collected and funding local plans. It’s a pragmatic approach. There is also hope that Vodafone will benefit from this program by picking up and retaining more customers, proving to other major tech brands that people are interested in how e-waste is being handled.

In addition to the program with CTL, Vodafone is also announcing its GigaGreen Re-Trade program, which aims to take old smartphones out of drawers (there are an estimated 200 million in Germany alone) and make them quick and easy for people to recycle. to exchange. You answer a few questions and Vodafone’s software analyzes your phone to offer a trade-in price and free shipping.

what goes around

While it is better than doing nothing, this type of waste compensation scheme raises some issues and potential greenwashing issues. The folks at iFixit say: recycling should be the last resort† Even when phones are properly recycled using the latest techniques, what can actually be recovered is very limited. Ideally, phones should be repeatedly refurbished before being recycled.

The iFixit team also raised concerns about the environmental costs of transportation. Many countries lack the infrastructure and expertise to recycle locally. CTL ships the devices it collects to recycling plants in Europe, though it claims the climate balance is positive, and plans to support the construction of recycling infrastructures directly in developing countries. But for CTL and others like world loopis sending e-waste to Europe the lesser of two evils if the alternative is informal recycling or landfill.

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