Technology Can Help Move Africa Towards A Circular Economy

Behind all our efforts to build a more sustainable economy lies a stark and unavoidable reality. We waste too much for our current economic models to ever be sustainable. According to research by the United Nations, waste generation will drastically outpace population growth by more than double between now and 2050.

Put simply: the traditional linear “take, make, dispose” production model is no longer viable. By moving towards a circular economy, Africa may be able to leapfrog to more a sustainable development approach by learning lessons and avoiding pitfalls of resource-intensive practices of the linear economy. There are many examples on the continent where this is common, for example Olusosun, Lagos, Nigeria and Agbogbloshie, Accra, Ghana. Yet, informal waste reclaimers could be one route for circular practices to develop in countries which have been unable to implement recycling of plastics and electronic waste at scale.

To build an economy that works for people and the environment, we have to find a way to use less, waste less and recycle more.

Only a circular economy can deliver true sustainability  

In a circular economy, businesses aim to ensure that every process is as efficient as possible. Our strategy is to build a circular economy that involves; repair, reuse and recycle. These principles can be traced back all the way to 1992, when we launched the Design for Sustainability programme. 

For every unit of output — whether a physical product or a service — inputs, such as physical materials or energy, are kept to the minimum required to achieve the desired output. And when a product reaches the end of its useful life, it is broken down and recycled in a way that keeps as much material out of landfill as possible. 

A key part of this effort is to reimagine product design. Our sustainability is built into the design process. From the moment our product teams sit down to draw the first sketch, they think about the amount of energy and raw materials required to make, run, and then dispose of that product, as well as how much material as possible, can be recycled. With this in mind, we have repaired and re-used over 4.6 million hardware units and recycled 528,300 tonnes of hardware and printing supplies – with a goal to recycle 1.2 million tonnes by 2025.  

The process of building a circular economy is also made easier by the creation of new industrial technologies such as 3D printing and the Internet of Things (IoT). When manufacturers use 3D printing technology, for instance, they can reuse up to 80% of the surplus printer powder from any job. This cuts waste and resource usage. Using IoT technology to engage in predictive maintenance reduces breakdowns and cuts waste, of energy and materials, by up to 20%.

By: Bradley Pulford, VP & Managing Director for HP Africa

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