Philips CEO Frans van Houten: ‘More gold in e-waste than mining’

Philips global president and CEO Frans van Houten has emphasised the increasing value of electronic waste, arguing that it could provide a richer source of gold than mining if recovery efforts were stepped up.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last week, Houten said that his company now sees the circular economy as “a way to make a giant leap forward” in terms of interlinking smarter resource use with profitability.

“There is more gold coming out of e-waste than actually out of the mines, e-waste has a lot of value,” he told delegates during a waste panel session, which also featured Dame Ellen MacArthur and Heineken CEO Jean-François van Boxmeer.

However tapping into this valuable material stream to extract the metal at scale would require far-reaching collaboration, he added.

“We need to orchestrate the entire value chain, from design for a circular economy so that the materials can be recuperated, and then with the retailer, and eventually the consumer, an awareness of a closed loop system so that we get these things back.”

Van Houten said that the electronics industry could learn a great deal from how other waste streams are being dealt with, such as Asia’s approach to recover 60% of used plastic (PET) bottles.

“Asia has done a phenomenal job in that … we need to learn from best practices in other parts of the world to create higher awareness and a moral obligation, as well as see the value in this recycling,” he maintained.

Keeping with the packaging theme, Van Boxmeer said that Heineken took a three-stage approach to embedding circular economy thinking into its business model.

“The first stage is the design of the product, then it’s the experience of the product, then it’s what do you do with the waste after the experience of the product,” he told delegates.

Besides putting a lot of effort into the design of its industrial processes to reduce energy and water consumption, Heineken is exploring ways to increase material optimisation during the packaging stage.

‘You can make a very solid safe bottle with 30% less waste when you know that glass is just sand and 70% is the cost of the energy of melting the sand down to make glass. If you can reduce the amount of sand and energy by 30%, it’s a huge deal,” Van Boxmeer said.

He added that the whole sustainability agenda was now a business agenda at Heineken. “If you price resources, you find out very quickly you can make money out of it,” he maintained.

Maxine Perella

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