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Weighing more than the Great Wall of China, the amount of electronic waste discarded in 2021 is estimated to be 57.4 metric tons. And just 17.4% is currently recycled correctly. With its new One for One program, Vodafone Germany will move at least one million phones a year into secure waste streams.
For every phone Vodafone sells to individuals in Germany, a phone in a country without safe e-waste recycling will be collected and properly recycled, recovering precious raw materials like gold, silver, palladium and cobalt. Phones will be sourced primarily from Ghana, Nigeria and Cameroon, where they would otherwise end up in landfills or burned. To collect and process the devices, Vodafone is partnering with Closing the Loop, a Dutch social enterprise that specializes in e-waste compensation as a service.
At first, recycling will take place in European factories. Even with shipping, there's a net climate benefit, but Closing the Loop wants to do better. As a result of Vodafone's long-term commitment to pay for processing at least one million phones a year, Closing the Loop can scale up and invest in recycling infrastructure in African countries, creating local jobs and eliminating the need to ship devices.
From the social and environmental damage done when raw materials are extracted, to unacceptable labor practices in manufacturing, to poisonous metals leaking from electronics in landfills: the devices people use daily are far from sustainable.
Like CO2 offsetting, Closing the Loop's waste compensation service isn't perfect, either. Ideally, negative outputs — carbon and e-waste — would be reduced instead of offset. The reality is that most consumers aren't buying greener tech like Framework laptops and Fairphones.
But circularity needs to start somewhere, and waste compensation gives tech-related brands measurable results they can share with consumers and other stakeholders. On the reduction end, Vodafone is ramping up its efforts to keep devices in use longer by optimizing its repair and resale systems.
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