In this episode, we focus on consumer electronics – any product with a battery or plug. Thanks to them, we work, connect, clean clothes and crockery, and chill vaccines and champagne.
But, as Joshua Palfreman explains, start with their contents – toxic chemicals such as mercury and lead that pollute the environment and living organisms, precious metals that are difficult to mine and later to remove, and opaque plastic that nobody wants to recycle. Joshua advocates the use of materials like graphene to make products more robust, and companies setting up closed-loop vertical systems to manage their supply chains. At the consumer end, people hoard electronics for their sentimental value, according to Jacqueline Mukarukundo. Once they overcome that, their next concern is how to hand them over, and where to get good value. Increasingly, consumers are looking for sustainable solutions that are easy, affordable and appealing.
At Wastezon, Jacqueline connects households in Rwanda keeping electronics they no longer want with buyers. She uses, and is building on, technology to track and sort different types of waste. In the Global North, a Closing The Loop corporate customer that buys ICT hardware pays a small premium to collect and recycle a scrap device in the emerging markets.
According to Joost de Kluijver, Closing The Loop CEO, commercial and sustainability teams within a business must collaborate to enable extended producer responsibility for electronics, on the premise that finding financially, environmentally and socially viable solutions will be an iterative process, especially in countries with weak regulatory structures – recycling batteries from west Africa being just one case in point. He and Joshua offer suggestions such as introducing deposit or return schemes. Penalising consumers who do not dispose of their products safely could change behaviour. A manufacturer or distributor including waste compensation in its offering should be a win-win.
Joshua speaks about emerging technologies to extract high value metals safely and cost-effectively at the end of the product use cycle. As electronics brands enjoy remarkable loyalty, he believes that adding premiums for better working or environmental practices, and traceability, is low risk. Of course, ensuring the money reaches where it should must be enforceable – and enforced.
Both Jacqueline and Joost see an opportunity to scale up in Africa, where the lack of investment in linear waste management and using products for as long as possible mean there is an opportunity to develop urban mining suppliers for the future. In Europe, incineration is blocking circularity, says Joost. It could be an opportunity for the Global South to leapfrog.
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Co-Founder and Chief Marketing Officer at Wastezon
Jacqueline Mukarukundo is the co-founder and Chief Marketing Officer at Wastezon, a Rwandan cleantech startup that is leveraging technology to create a waste-free world. Her zeal in Marketing led Wastezon to emerge as the best E-waste Solution Provider-East Africa in 2019 Build Magazine’s Recycling and Waste Management Awards. She overseas Wastezon’s marketing strategies and manages the Clientele including over 155 users including Recycling Industries and Households. Her work earned her recognition such as SDG Competition Award at SDG Summer School, Geneva and Learning Planet Assembly Award, Paris. During her time in Geneva, she co-founded Healplus.info, an SDG Education Awareness startup that is currently promoting awareness on SDGs.
Freelance Waste Management, Recycling & WASH Specialist
Joshua is a freelance, independent, solid waste management, recycling and WASH specialist with sound knowledge of integrated solid waste management planning and delivery (ISWMP), technology and infrastructure design, municipal service planning, and private sector development (market systems and M4P) drawn from postgraduate study, eleven years of professional experience and a geographic speciality in East and Southern Africa (EAC, SADC). Josh presents a demonstrated ability to design, lead and monitor complex technical programmes, supported by competencies in civil engineering, environmental auditing and GIS. Joshua is based in Cape Town, South Africa.
JOOST DE KLUIJVER
Director and Founder, Closing The Loop
Joost started Closing the Loop (CTL), a company that won the Dutch Circular Award in 2018. Since its commercial start in 2014, CTL has been a pioneer in circularity for tech. Its efforts to close loops in an industry struggling with a less sustainable image – serving customers that are reluctant to choose sustainability over usability – resulted in the creation of pragmatic circular services. Closing the Loop’s waste-compensation services are now creating customer value and positive impact for tech buyers, some of the world’s largest companies as well as the tech industry itself. Joost has been an entrepreneur for 10 years and worked for Accenture and the Global Reporting Initiative in the past.