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High hopes for African phone battery programme

Phone recycler Closing the Loop of the Netherlands has developed a pilot to ship more than five tonnes of mobile phone batteries from Nigeria to Belgium and recycle them into new products.

With the ‘first-ever shipment’ of scrap Li-ion batteries from West Africa to Europe, CTL hopes to prove that these scrap batteries can be a sustainable source for resources.

The initiative is claimed to likely become a game-changer for the electronics industry, and the project could well be a model for mobile phone battery recycling in other African countries, the company says in a new white paper.

Chasing cobalt contents

The paper, ‘Making a Business Case for African Battery Recycling’, describes the steps the company took to safely collect, store, and ship the phones containing an estimated 1.2 tonnes of cobalt. The recycled materials will be sold onto the market to be used in new batteries, the report says.

Closing the Loop worked with local governments, environmental service company Verde Impacto, Nigerian recycler Hinckley Group, cell phone company Fairphone and US battery recycler Call2Recycle.

Plagued by restrictions

Closing the Loop already collects end-of-life phones in developing countries and ships them to countries with a proper infrastructure for recycling but says the potential hazards of lithium-ion batteries prevented it from including batteries in its recycling plans until the pilot programme started in 2018.

Although the project demonstrated that such work is possible, the required administration and documentation to ship used li-ion batteries is costly and complicated. The report notes that agreements such as the Basel Convention, ‘though passed with good intentions, in this case obstruct improvements in the recycling of electronic waste from countries like Nigeria’.

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