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Circular economy

Where do our old phones go when we upgrade? Eliminating E-waste

E-waste is becoming a huge burden for African countries such as Ghana, Rwanda, Nigeria and South Africa. A circular economy provides a solution



E - waste


With 90 per cent of the planet owning mobile phones, and people upgrading their phones on average every 21 months[1], we are fast creating a new pollution problem: E-waste.

E-waste is the term for the large amount of electronic goods that are thrown away when people upgrade to new ones. Although mobile phones make up a large part of the E-waste problem, other electronics such as laptops, fridges and televisions also add to the mix.

Once thrown away, these electronics often end up in huge piles in countries such as Ghana, Rwanda, Nigeria and South Africa. This is a big pollution problem for these countries, which is the first big issue with E-waste.

But further, within these items that end up in landfill contain precious minerals and metals that have been mined from the Earth. They are being left underused, while new materials are being mined. This is a wasteful use of the Earth’s finite resources.

Just 20 per cent of e-waste is documented to be collected and recycled under appropriate conditions, while the remaining 80 per cent is either thrown into the residual waste stream or dumped, traded or treated in substandard conditions.[2]

A circular economy will tackle E-waste in four ways:

First, it will ensure phones can be kept and used for longer. Because extending the life of phones by one year has the potential to save 21.4 million tonnes of C02 annually, which is the equivalent of taking 4.7 million cars off the road. [3]

Second, when phones no longer work, they will be refurbished, rather than thrown to landfill. The refurbished phone market will grow to a $140bn value in 2030. [4]

Third, where phones can’t be refurbished, they will be stripped down by phone manufacturers who will reuse the precious minerals and metals in new phones and technology.

Fourth, this will go hand-in-hand with redesigning the whole system to be fit for a circular economy, including how we access technology.

Intesa Sanpaolo is the first financial services strategic partner of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, an international charity committed to the creation of a circular economy tackling global challenges like climate change, biodiversity loss, waste, and pollution.

Watch the film to find out more about tackling E-waste through a circular economy.


Text sources

[1] https://www.counterpointresearch.com/smartphone-users-replace-their-device-every-twenty-one-months/#:~:text=Due%20to%20growing%20dependence%20on,than%20consumers%20in%20developed%20markets.

[2] https://www.counterpointresearch.com/smartphone-users-replace-their-device-every-twenty-one-months/#:~:text=Due%20to%20growing%20dependence%20on,than%20consumers%20in%20developed%20markets.

[3] https://ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/circular-consumer-electronics-an-initial-exploration

[4] https://www.gsma.com/newsroom/press-release/gsma-publishes-vision-for-a-circular-economy-of-mobile-devices/#:~:text=Manufacturing%20and%20assembly%20also%20contribute,emissions%20from%20fossil%20fuel%20use.&text=Extending%20the%20lifetime%20of%20all,million%20cars%20off%20the%20road.

[5] https://www.gsma.com/newsroom/press-release/gsma-publishes-vision-for-a-circular-economy-of-mobile-devices/#:~:text=Manufacturing%20and%20assembly%20also%20contribute,emissions%20from%20fossil%20fuel%20use.&text=Extending%20the%20lifetime%20of%20all,million%20cars%20off%20the%20road.


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