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

Unpleasant consequence from our collective thirst for shiny new gadgets is a rising mountain (sometimes literally) of electronic waste. Too many of our devices are difficult to recycle, etc. much of our e-waste ends up in landfillswhere toxic chemicals can enter the ground and contaminate local water supplies.

IN Global Partnership on e-Waste Statistics estimates that we produce more than 50 million tonnes of e-waste each year and recycle only 20 percent. We throw away phones, monitors and countless other devices that can be repaired and put back into operation or dismantled to gather useful materials inside.

But how to convince manufacturers to participate? Waste compensation company Closing the cycle (CTL) connects technology manufacturers with local communities to consume technology more sustainably. Today, the company announced an agreement with Vodafone in Germany, where the telecommunications company promises that “for every mobile phone sold to private customers, we return old”.

Money for old phones

Vodafone intends to do so in part through the One for One initiative, in which CTL buys obsolete devices that are completely unusable or unrepairable, using collection networks based primarily in Ghana, Nigeria and Cameroon. Instead of ending up in landfills, these devices are professionally recycled to extract gold, silver, copper and cobalt, which can be returned to circulation.

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

“How do you make e-waste reduction commercially attractive to people?” Asks Joost de Kluiver, director of CTL. “We want to make trade people interested in sustainability.

De Kluiver is convinced that the way to better recycling is to build a business rationale that can boost formal collection by creating demand for more e-waste to collect and fund local plans. This is a pragmatic approach. It is also hoped that Vodafone will benefit from this program by attracting and retaining more customers, proving to other major technology brands that people are interested in how e-waste is treated.

In addition to the CTL program, Vodafone announces its GigaGreen Re-Trade program, which aims to take old smartphones out of drawers (there are about 200 million of them in Germany alone) and back into circulation, making it quick and easy to people to trade them. You answer a few questions and Vodafone software analyzes your phone to offer a share price and free shipping.

Whatever called

Although it is better than doing nothing, this type of waste compensation scheme raises some issues and potential concerns about greening. The people at iFixit say recycling must 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 repaired repeatedly before being recycled.

The iFixit team also expressed concerns about the environmental costs of transport. Many countries do not have the infrastructure and experience to recycle locally. CTL sends the devices it collects to recycling plants in Europe, although it says 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 Loopsending e-waste to Europe is the lesser of two evils when the alternative is informal recycling or depot.

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