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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[i].

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[ii]. 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%.[iii]

Together, we already have the tools we need

Many of the tools we need to build the circular economy are already readily available to us. And many businesses are now harnessing them to make their own supply chains more sustainable.  However, it’s not enough for businesses to simply adopt these tools and practices themselves. It’s crucial for companies to collaborate with partners across the entire supply chain. For instance, our mission is embedded in sustainability and we continue to work with our partners to advance a circular and low-carbon economy, by developing a supply chain that is more dynamic, inclusive, and equal, while strengthening the vitality and resilience of local communities. The recent launch of the HP Amplify Impact is a big step forward, for the region, to create the most sustainable and equitable technology business by 2030.

This first-of-its-kind partner sustainable impact assessment, resource, and training program, provides our partners with the tools required to identify potential gaps, equipping them with the guidance necessary to achieve their goals. South Africa is already one of the first countries on the continent to join the program. Through this program, we aspire to drive accountability throughout the IT industry guided by the following pillars:

  • Planet: Create a net-zero carbon, fully regenerative circular economy
  • People: Respecting human rights, enabling people across the value chain to thrive
  • Community: Help eliminate the digital divide that prevents too many from accessing education, jobs and healthcare

We also have a leadership position in extended producer responsibility (EPR) for e-waste/ recycling industry development. Since 2008, we have been working together with key industry stakeholders to implement a sustainable model for e-waste recycling on the continent. The effort has created a full multi stakeholder blueprint for implementing an effective, private sector managed e-waste system with a long-term aim of replication across the continent.

E-waste is a valuable resource and hence can be turned into an economic opportunity for Africa, creating thousands of green jobs whilst addressing health & environmental hazards, typically associated with rudimentary e-waste collection and treatment.

Moreover, these goals and values are not just crucial for a company’s bottom-line, they are critical for securing the future of our planet and its communities – which is a purpose every single one of us must embrace in 2021, and beyond.

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


[ii] HP Jet Fusion 3D Printing Solutions using HP 3D High Reusability PA 12 and HP 3D High Reusability CB PA 12 provide up to 80% powder reusability ratio, producing functional parts batch after batch. For testing, material is aged in real printing conditions and powder is tracked by generations (worst case for reusability). Parts are then made from each generation and tested for mechanical properties and accuracy.