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Getting the most out of phones dumped in Africa

The Netherlands – ‘It is clear to me that, on the one hand, you have a huge demand for metals like gold, copper and rare earths. And on the other hand, there is a huge supply of metals just waiting to be recovered – metals that cannot be recycled locally,’ says Joost de Kluijver when talking about the masses of discarded phones making their way to Africa’s rudimentary burning sites each year. The ceo of Dutch firm Closing the Loop sees a simple solution; export as many phones as possible to Europe for proper dismantling and recycling.

Almost 2 million phones have been recycled since Closing the Loop started its operations in 2012. Belgium’s industry leader Umicore takes care of the metals recovery, managing over 99% metals purity. ‘Some have called us the garbage men of the telecoms industry since we help clean up the mess,’ De Kluijver says with a laugh.

The early years were challenging, he admits. Mostly because he and local partners in Ghana, Uganda and Zambia had to figure out how to go about collecting and shipping containers full of discarded handsets. ‘And acquiring the necessary permits meant running into a lot of red tape,’ the businessman tells Recycling International.

Receiving the shipment of 700 000 phones from Uganda and Rwanda in one go this August was definitely a milestone for the Closing the Loop team, based in Amsterdam. ‘The deal was so long in the making. I am relieved that we can now finally start recovering the metals,’ De Kluijver comments.

He estimates that this year Closing the Loop will probably collect 1.5 million phones for recycling. ‘Based on our scalable business model and partnerships with recycling leaders, including Sims Recycling Solutions, we can expand to just about any country in the world,’ the ceo asserts.

Read the full interview in our upcoming issue.

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