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Catherine Weetman 00:03
Simone, welcome to the circular economy podcast.
Simone Andersson 00:07
Thank you. Hi, Catherine. Nice to be here.
Catherine Weetman 00:11
Yeah, and thanks for joining us today. Can we start by asking you to give us an overview of the issues around waste electrical and electronics? In Kenya?
Simone Andersson 00:23
Yes, there is an estimate of more than 50,000 tonnes of E waste produced in Kenya yearly. Where all of this goes, is a mystery. But we think we know a little bit about it. And that’s the problem, I guess, some of it is in storage still, because they don’t know how to release it or where to release it. Or they don’t want to, whether it’s a company or private households, and then if they do, they might release it to someone who is not really very caring about the worker experience or the community around or the environment. So one uses methods to extract different materials in a hazardous way. So that is the problems, a lot of E waste, but not a lot of it is handled in a safe manner. So
Catherine Weetman 01:24
and that would apply to both e waste that’s created locally, so it’s, it’s now it’s been used by a household or a business in Kenya, and is now at the end of its use phase. And also a waste that’s imported from other parts of the world.
Simone Andersson 01:46
Yeah, and that is adds to the problem. Of course, Kenyans and Africans consume a lot of electronics the way it is, but then we have these containers being shipped. Sometimes, under the names of being just, well, goods, and someone is bidding, maybe hoping that it’s going to be some good quality, either computers or other appliances. But many times what I’ve heard from several different sources, because I haven’t seen this with my own eyes, but about 50% is usually just trash so to speak. Which of course, just adds to the problem we already have here, especially if that container then is not taken care of in a safe manner. And it just goes,
Catherine Weetman 02:42
Yeah, so we’ve got we’ve got lots of issues from an environmental point of view, a human health and safety point of view. And, of course, all that lost, value free sort of a waste. So that brings us on to your work at the WEEE Centre. Could you give us a quick overview of how it got started and what it’s aiming to do?
Simone Andersson 03:07
For sure, yes, it actually started long ago, 20 years ago, Dr. Thomas Seeley started an NGO still running today called Computers For Schools, Kenya, and bridging the digital gap by donating computers out to learning institutions. But pretty soon realising there was a need of a text back scheme of some sort, when they became obsolete and broken training in Europe and and America and eventually starting a company we sent to 10 years ago, which Boniface Mbithi is the CEO today. And of course, starting a company, a waste management company in a country where waste management is not very well organised, is special, and doing it specialising on electronic waste, which is even less knowledge about around here. I was must say it’s really extraordinary. I came in contact with this organisation five years ago, and I’ve been here now working since two years back. So
Catherine Weetman 04:30
yeah, so so as you as you say it was you know, it’s facing lots of challenges and really pioneering in its field. So, what what are the overall aims of the we centre now
Simone Andersson 04:44
to expand we, in our mission, we are a social enterprise. So we want to secure green and clean environment. And with that, of course, we must take on the challenge of reaching all of these 50,000 tonnes or how much it now is, because it’s actually increasing according to all data. So we want to be that player solving this. But of course, we we can’t do it alone. So we, we push, and we have partners that are pushing, both advocating for legislation to be in place. We’re also pushing for the infrastructure of drop off points, etc. So we’re just aiming really high and forward.
Catherine Weetman 05:41
Yeah, that sounds good. So as well as kind of having operations yourself partnering with, with organisations that can push for better legislation, and the necessary infrastructure seems really, really important. So can you talk us through the, the operations of the WEEE Centre? And the circular aspects of that?
Simone Andersson 06:04
Yes, yeah. And of course, when I say that, we want to be a player and take care of everything, we also see the potential of actually trying to make as much as possible, enter into a circular economy instead of just recycling it all, as the material they are. And we’ve started in different ways, but our general process is of course, offering safe disposal go collect. When we bring it in, we do an inventory, where we note down the model the make the serial number, the weight, and we make it a test to see is anything functioning still? What can be reused? Are there any components that we know are being sought for in the market? Or should we just dismantle and have the different materials being sold for recycling, we try to find local solutions as much as possible. There are still components and fractions that are what we call problematic in that sense that we don’t have the technologies in Kenya or even Africa. So then we work with partners abroad to solve those issues. Yeah, and the circularity aspect is really now coming on strong when we also noticed that partners are asking more for and even clients asking more for us to reuse more, not just disassemble and trash the things and recycle the materials, that is really giving me hope and strength. There are also asking for the climate compensation, the carbon credits, which is a sign they realise that the more we can keep in the loop, the more carbon we will save, which is a good thing. So that is helping us motivate to the circularity of items. Yeah, and of course, when it comes to electronics, you have a lot of components that are basically nothing wrong with at all even though the device might have stopped functioning. So you might have screws, you might have different components that when you disassemble, manually, the way we do, can be taken care of into another way either be sent back to the manufacturer, which might be a long way, but or package and sell. So we have started in a small small pilot doing that to get with renewable Kenya when it comes to spare parts for telephones.
Catherine Weetman 09:07
So that’s one of the the partnerships and collaborations that you mentioned then with Rivo, Kenya. So how does that how does that work in practice, from their point of view, what what, what are they doing with those components.
Simone Andersson 09:23
So they have a web page where they sold or they still sell, of course, spare parts, new spare parts to technicians around the country. And this is sounds simple and easy. But let’s say it is quite groundbreaking, for technicians to be able to order and get it straight to the doorstep. Instead of needing to have a huge stockpile of different items in your own workshop and go looking for spare parts. They’re so good They’re then now selling some refurbished parts that we can retrieve from broken phones. If it’s broken, maybe the SIM card slot is still intact, maybe the camera is still intact, etc. So we are trying and testing and they are following up very closely with our clients, what they think of these items and the grading because we try to grade them if it’s like premium or ABC graded, refurbished. So that is where we are right now. And we need to learn this grading ourselves, of course, it’s a pilot. So we’re trying and it will be interesting to see we gave it four months. So we will see.
Catherine Weetman 10:49
Yeah, that’s that sounds right. But
Simone Andersson 10:50
it’s exciting. And I think this is the future definitely for not just spare parts for phones.
Catherine Weetman 10:57
Yeah, but for but for everything. And why not? There must be all sorts of, of, you know, perfectly usable parts and components in phones, I was looking at something on the Fairphone website yesterday, where they’d included a chart showing the carbon savings over the lifetime of the phone. And they were making the point that a typical Fairphone is used for about five years. My mind’s now it’s, it’s gone past its six year milestone. So it’s not doing too bad, though it is it is slow. But typically smartphones only use for about two and a half years. And they were showing the you know, the carbon savings of keeping it for longer. So that’s that’s one thing, isn’t it being able to keep things in use, but obviously, there’s more carbon savings to come from keeping all those components in in the system. So reducing the carbon footprint of of the repair. So yeah, I think that’s there’s lots of potential. So could you just explain explained a bit more about the types of equipment that you’re handling? We’ve mentioned? Phones, I guess laptops are in there? Yeah. What other kinds of things do you handle?
Simone Andersson 12:18
So the decision made since we are a social enterprise, is that we actually take care of all kinds of E waste. Everything from batteries, bulbs, small cables, to larger items, and household appliances of all kinds, like cookers or kettles, iron boxes. And then you have the bigger ones, like fridges, and we even do medical equipment also have had special training for that. And also, the technicians who work with those are also vaccinated.
Catherine Weetman 13:02
Wow. Wow. So we’re really big range then. And just coming back to the partnerships and collaborations. When we were talking ahead of the podcast, you mentioned a collaboration with a solar lantern provider?
Simone Andersson 13:17
Yeah, so we are actually collaborating with with several of them. But if I give one example, when bright products came to visit us, their R&D manager was also part of that, and really interested in knowing if we could give them a heads up. If there anything in their lanterns are either hard to disassemble, or if we could see any kind of improvements that could be made. Another one is to tell energies, who also do their own solar lanterns, where they have reduced the amount of plastics to reduce the weight, which of course, is a different story. But it’s really good for the transports and the overall material use. So I’m seeing that that kind of collaboration where we centre being in the end of the linear right now but wants to be part of the loop. We need to talk to the designers and they need to talk to us to be able to keep everything now I’m doing circles with my hands. But
Catherine Weetman 14:33
yeah, and I really welcome that design, doesn’t it? You know that, the better we make the design, in terms of the circular options at every stage, not just thinking about designing for recycling. Exactly. That’s the last resort. Yes, we need to do that. But just like the Fairphone the easy we make it to repair something, the more likely it is that the user will prepare it, of course.
Simone Andersson 15:01
And now when we see the standardisation starting to form a little bit with [USB] Type C, outlets in Europe from next year, no, the next year after that 24, I can’t remember now, when it’s going to be compulsory to only have that, that is great. And as a consumer, it’s going to be less straining to have one cable to the whole family or one type of cable instead of four or five different ones, which you run around with nowadays. So that is good. And of course, for the circularity, it’s going to be outstanding also.
Catherine Weetman 15:44
Yeah, yeah, there’s lots of things like that, that can be improved, kind of with regulations and agreements across the various industry sectors. What about some of the barriers to progress? What kind of things have you have you come up against that have been really difficult to overcome? Well,
Simone Andersson 16:03
I would say the awareness creation, I need to emphasise on that and the lack of budgets in in many programmes in many. Also budgets when it comes to authority. But but in in general, when it comes to communication, many times you have oh, do this do that. But then how do we disseminate? How do we actually spread this to enough to actually create a momentum or an action that will last? So that is one. The other one is of course, the reach the outreach and the infrastructure. If we now create awareness, and people start wanting to dispose, then you need to have somewhere to dispose, right? So you can’t just shout out and then not have an infrastructure. So that is really also key. And in this case, you need to have bins that keep the water out. So if you’re having it outdoors, it needs to be. And basically we don’t have bins here. So we need I’ve been designing I think I’m on my fourth variation of a bin that we are now manufacturing to see how it works and how the client will. And the way we do it is, thankfully, to our wonderful partners that we cost share, or they pay for the bin, and we come and collect. So we have different deals to try to manage that because we can’t afford to put up bins by ourselves everywhere, it’s not feasible, the way it is right now, because we’re not getting volumes enough if we had huge. So that’s the third challenge, you need to get volumes to be able to, you know, and we need to get volumes of all kinds of E waste, because some of it will be more valuable, where we can have a different kind of revenue mix. And some of the E waste will be merely a cost from from a desert. Like the light bulbs and tubes. For instance. When you refuse to put something on dump sites or landfills, you’re left with storing it and taking care of it and thinking through how can we possibly send this for safe recycling, because it’s very costly. So that’s a shout out to anyone who wants to do a CSR project where we can verify where it goes and actually put these things. And also we have a lot of valuable batteries that we know, you know, when battery manufacturing and recycling is coming along in the world. But we still don’t have even though we have quite a number of them. We still don’t have enough because when someone wants to pay for it, they want to get quite large amounts. So we’re in between. I would say sometimes we’re we’re like a startup, even though we started quite some while ago. And at the same time we’re in an industry in a world where it looks different in those countries where you have the producer responsibility, for instance, because then suddenly, the landscape changes. Yeah,
Catherine Weetman 19:37
yeah. Yeah. lots lots of challenges, and particularly with the variety of products and components that you’re trying to deal with. And so how will you, how are you kind of funding all the research and the pilot schemes that you’re doing, you know, to try and forge a new path and get the critical mass around these things. How are you doing that?
Simone Andersson 20:07
Most of the times this pilot with renewable, we are trying to manage ourselves because we just wanted to really try to do that. And we didn’t have any particular project around or partner that could pay for it. But otherwise, we are now also starting something with the CRT glass, where UK Innovate KTN had a challenge. So they are funding £25,000 pounds. For one part of the panel glass, which goes to some consultants from Sweden, in this case, and the funnel glass is a consultant in the UK that had a very exciting innovation, hopefully, to be able to extract the lead with less energy demand. We’ll see how that goes. It’s just we kicked off a few weeks ago. But that is exciting. So then it’s funded through them, which is great. Otherwise, we also have other partners where we have a lot of awareness creation and campaigns for training. Sometimes it’s training a specific target group, like waste pickers in safe handling, sometimes it is training other stakeholders or targeted on women with an otherwise we, we have the revenue streams of our services, data destruction, and also safe disposal. And then we have the revenue streams of selling some of the reusable items of components. And also then selling the fractions, the material fractions. So we try to balance this, but surely there is still a lot of projects, so to speak, where we’ve had grants doing all these different,
Catherine Weetman 22:22
but I guess a lot of this is so new, that, you know, we need we need grants, don’t we from all kinds of Yeah, it is like, you know, like governments like innovation, funding, like even universities and NGOs and so on, everybody needs to get behind this and, and invest in the future. Otherwise, you know, it’s it’s not going to happen, and it’s not going to happen fast enough. And I mean,
Simone Andersson 22:55
I feel like I mean, we’re really making a difference and things are happening. Sometimes, certain projects might not go the way you wanted them to go, though, I mean, but that is the nature of projects, you have a plan, and this is what we want to do. And then things come in the way of different kind, or it just, it just didn’t happen the way you wanted it to. But you’ve tried and and you conclude and then maybe you can just skew it or you were too early. You need to wait a year, and then you do it again. And then suddenly it works. So yeah, we’re very, very grateful for what has been one wonderful project during a long time has been Norick. It’s a Norwegian funding, where we have had a collaboration and an exchange, one time with Columbia. Ours staff going there and stuff from them. They’re coming here, mutual learning, and then we’ve done the same with Madagascar, where Heathrow is now really expanding and coming along. And we’re still having exchange and trainings. And so it’s really wonderful when we can have those knowledge if knowledge exchange also as well as practical learnings and teaching amongst each other. So sounds like it’s definitely needed.
Catherine Weetman 24:31
Yeah, absolutely. And it sounds like it’s more than a full time job. You know, trying to balance all the different income streams and go and find potential new sources of funding.
Simone Andersson 24:41
Yeah, and that that brings me to the next thing and that is internal capacity building because what I’ve noticed is of course when we are a few different e waste actors here in in Kenya and of course we get a lot of production and people want to do things and want us to do things and want us to take responsibility here and there and everywhere. And at the same time received field visits, and, you know, which is so good, but it also takes a lot of time. And what I feel is, we really need to now level up our game when it comes to the operations trying to see where we can lean it out how we can work on the logistics, because now when we start having a broader infrastructure for collection, of course, we need to find smoother ways. So we will look at automation there, what kind of sensors what kind of systems can you use? Will they fit into those bins that we have or not? There are a lot of things and basically doing all of this is, it’s not like we have a research unit to do it. So, you are spot on there. So the capacity building internally, both knowledge wise, and you know, but also resources in terms of either mentorship or or just people coming to help us with this.
Catherine Weetman 26:16
Yeah, so as well as as well as trying to develop all the technical expertise around Waste Electricals and Electronics,
Simone Andersson 26:24
exactly its core business,
Catherine Weetman 26:27
how do we develop better processes that help us, you know, learn lessons, identify opportunities and and get more efficient? So yeah, all the all the all the challenges of, of a startup. But probably more more complicated. So Simone, looking, looking back over the time that you’ve been involved with the we Centre in Kenya, what’s your number one lesson learned that you that you’d want to pass on to another business, starting something circular.
Simone Andersson 27:01
It’s two things that might seem a bit opposite to each other. But one is just do it. If you feel you have a hunch that this must be the right way, and go for it. And in the meantime, be patient, with yourself and with others, because they might not have gotten the same epiphany that you have yourself. So you might have to repeat yourself very many times and convince, etc. But just to do it. So what we’ve like one and a half year ago, Bonnie and I were discussing and feeling OK, there is too little development and innovation when it comes to the electronics. And of course we have partners that are doing dealing with other types of waste also, and we saw that it is going to slow. So we just decided let us start something and then we we named it the circular innovation hub. So it’s been up and running for more than a year now.
Catherine Weetman 28:10
I think the collaborations with with people working on innovation and research and startups in other countries is a really brilliant thing, isn’t it to get everybody working across borders on this. And if you could wave a magic wand, Simone and change just one thing to create a better world what would that be?
Simone Andersson 28:35
Obligatory training of any politician that will give the basics in in natural science and circular ways how the nutrients work, how the material works, etc. And we would see a different world I’m very sure. Because it’s not very complicated, actually.
Catherine Weetman 28:57
I like that. I like that. Thank you. And who would you recommend as a future guests for the circular economy podcast?
Simone Andersson 29:05
Hmm, now I’m gonna pick one of our startups Of course. One is doing bags and shoes out of pineapple fibres. Pine Cassie, Olivia I wore I think she’s amazing, since she also didn’t start with focusing on environment or waste. But she came in through and just found herself doing this now. And yeah, I mean, there’s so much pineapple waste and nobody’s doing anything with it. So if someone can utilise it,
Catherine Weetman 29:45
that is brilliant. Yeah, absolutely. Creating more income streams for agriculture is really key as well as reducing the waste but helping farmers become more resilient and profitable is is very important. So So finally, Simone, how can people find out more and get in touch with you? And with the we centre?
Simone Andersson 30:06
Yes, we’re everywhere on all platforms, we centre and we use W E to bleed centre. So you can find us on LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, and of course we have a webpage we centre.com. Myself, I’m also on all platforms, easiest on LinkedIn, I think. But reach out to me, that’s totally fine. Boniface Mbithi as well, the CEO. And yeah, welcome to and you can share my also in the notes, maybe I can,
Catherine Weetman 30:45
Yes, I’ll put all those links in in the show notes so people can look you up and find out more. So Simone, thanks so much for taking time out of your schedule to tell us about some of the great work that you and your team are doing at the centre. And good luck with the next phase.
Simone Andersson 31:01
Thank you so much. And thank you for having us and me, Catherine.
Catherine Weetman 31:05
Yeah, it was great. I think we’ve only only just touched the surface of all the projects that you’re involved in. And it’s it’s amazing to hear how much is is being done and what a difference it’s starting to make to a really big issue for many countries. So thanks very much. Thanks.
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