Since the beginning of 2014, Recell Ghana has helped Closing the Loop mobilize local collectors in Ghana with the aim to collect 75,000 phones. We now have one field manager (who has a great network and experience in local phone collection), who is in charge of overseeing twelve regional collectors. These collectors also have two to five people working for them, so the network is becoming bigger.
We have a simple and clear message for phone collection that actually works better in African countries than in Europe: We want to buy your completely broken phones so we can recycle them.
Our progress has been a learning one, sometimes by trial and error. For example, we found out that if you pay for old phones by kilo, people will add bricks or even put clay inside the phone (and take the circuit board out). So it makes sense to train people on safety aspects and on the exact collection needs. About five people are directly working for my partner and me, but those people have up to five people collecting for them as well. So the explanation on how to collect has to be complete and smart, but also simple, to avoid any confusion.
Along the way, these collectors spread the message of recycling old phones everywhere they could! It was told in churches, on marketplaces, in schools and via other social networks. And although it has to come with quite some explanation, it is clearly being picked up. In the last eight months, around 75,000 phones were collected across Ghana. With little to no marketing! (Indeed the T-shirts that Fairphone gave our collectors definitely caught a lot of eyes.) Our collectors wear them and it’s really good to see their enthusiasm about the project.
After our partners managed to collect all these phones, they have to be gathered and packaged in the correct manner. Easier said than done. Traditional methods of dealing with products in Ghana at the “end of life” meant dumping waste in landfills, which would lead to greater environmental degradation or cause unhealthy living conditions for those getting metals out of scrap phones in an unregulated process.
Our solution is to find a responsible way to fight e-waste complying with all legal requirements. Currently, we’re on the right track but the administrative hurdles have been challenging.
It is quite a lot of work to comply with all the legal and safety requirements, to understand what exactly has environmentally harmful impact, and to find how and where it can be recycled properly. To reach this goal I also met with a number of organizations while I was in Ghana. For instance, the aforementioned field manager with an existing network of phone collectors, the Ghanaian Environmental Protection Agency, a television station, a used electronics market, and an African focused mobile operator, just to name a few of the various stakeholders I had the pleasure with spreading our mission.
For one specific case: In order to get the permit from the EPA, Closing the Loop and Fairphone have provided them with lots of paperwork containing clear descriptions of the collection projects and the safety and risk measures that are attached to it. In addition, as is custom