What Goes Around Comes All The Way Back Around

NABC member and winner of the 2019 ‘Doing Business in Africa’ award, Closing the Loop (CTL), has turned the global e-waste problem into an opportunity. By bringing the raw materials from end-of-life phones back into circulation, the social enterprise makes Western e-consumption waste-neutral.

14th of September 2022 Member Spotlight

When Reinhardt Smit, Supply Chain Director of Closing the Loop (CTL), reveals that a sustainable lifestyle does not rank among his personal priorities, he usually surprises people. His statement might indeed sound contradictory as the entrepreneur works for a start-up that has made sustainability its business model. Reinhardt explains that “together with many other people, I like the idea of sustainable phones but I would not pick it over the latest Samsung or iPhone. Still, I would like to contribute to a sustainable planet.” CTL has taken this dilemma to heart and turned it into a booming business case.

As a waste compensation company, the social enterprise connects tech buyers and manufacturers with local African communities and thus enables end-users to consume their preferred device more sustainably. CTL buys end-of-life electronics that are completely unusable or unrepairable, using collection networks based in Ghana, Nigeria, and Cameroon amongst others. Instead of ending up in landfills, these devices are professionally recycled to extract gold, silver, copper, and cobalt that can go back into circulation.

While the collection of disposed electronics exclusively takes place in Africa, the recycling of the collected goods is predominantly done in Europe. The reason for this is simple: many African countries lack infrastructure and expertise in waste recycling. Europe, on the contrary, offers professional recycling facilities, is increasingly interested in green business, and provides CTL with its main customer base – multinational corporations, such as Samsung, Vodafone, and KPMG. With their contribution to a circular economy within the sustainability and waste industry, CTL combines the Western demand of electronic devices with the popular pursuit of CSR and connects both aspirations to the African supply of e-waste. In other words, “our money comes from Europe and goes to Africa,” Reinhardt notes in view of the start-up’s biggest client to date – Vodafone Germany – that recently signed an agreement that charges CTL with an annual collection and recycling of one million old phones for Vodafone alone.

The start-up’s success clearly roots in its change of perspective: Instead of looking at Africa as a continent of many problems, they have recognized the many opportunities it offers. Back in 2014 Joost de Kluijver, Founder and CEO of CTL, noticed the huge amount of e-waste in Ghanaian and Tanzanian landfills. A problem that he approached with a business case that drives the demand for collecting and recycling e-waste. Convinced by the business idea, Reinhardt joined the startup as Project Director Africa at the time. Born in South Africa and raised in Ghana, he brought an extensive local network into the business, allowing CTL to effectively involve African-based waste collection services into their circular model.

Currently, the startup is examining the feasibility of setting up recycling infrastructures directly in developing countries in order to fully align their value chain with Africa in the future.

Find more information on Closing the Loop by visiting www.closingtheloop.eu