Latest Alliance Hackathon Concentrates Minds on Facilitating Trade in e-Waste

Ten teams comprising more than 170 computer programmers, engineers, developers, industry experts, entrepreneurs, business start-ups, and students recently set about the daunting task of trying to tackle the growing problem of cross-border e-waste transportation.

In collaboration with the Rwandan Government and global business partner Enviroserve, the Alliance hosted a 48-hour hackathon to address the issue. Participants refined their ideas with help from mentors, designed a prototype and presentation, and had five minutes to take to the stage and persuade a panel of judges.

Few countries have facilities with the capacity to process e-waste to the standards required for re-integration into new products. This means significant movements of e-waste, which often face significant delays at borders due to time-consuming, cumbersome paperwork. Cross-border red tape also impedes the development of a circular economy, with harmful knock-on effects on the environment.

Countries like Rwanda are also eyeing the importation of e-waste as a business opportunity. In 2019, the raw materials contained in the global e-waste were valued conservatively at USD57 billion, with estimates of double this figure by 2027.

After two exhausting but exhilarating days beginning November 26, the teams furnished their proposals to the judges. In true recycling fashion, some start-ups re-purposed their existing business ideas, while other groups wanted expert feedback and the opportunity to further explore trade facilitation solutions.

The winning One Road team, led by Hakim Lahmar and Jihad Satri from Morocco, proposed a digital portal that would enable stakeholders in the e-waste ecosystem, such as recyclers, collectors, or suppliers, to increase the recycling of electronic devices, or resell them for spare parts at the end of their lifecycle. This had the potential to re-use these components locally, obviating the need for cross-border transportation and encouraging e-waste processing within borders.

Another team, WasteWhales, comprising Jaco du Plooy and Brendan Visser from South Africa, won a special jury prize for its proposed mobile app to connect consumers with waste collection companies in the vicinity. This would mitigate the amount of e-waste that goes to landfill and could persuade more countries to handle e-waste locally.

Representatives of several Alliance global business partners, including Cisco, Umicore and UPS, also participated, helping to share their knowledge and best practices.

Some teams will now connect with jurors and mentors who participated in the event to gather additional feedback and help turn their proposals into reality, a key outcome that the Alliance will help with.

This latest hackathon marked the Alliance’s third in the last year. Previous initiatives included the Valenciaport Hackathon and the Smart Port Challenge, which sought disruptive solutions to improve trade facilitation in Valencia, Spain, and Morocco. Such events can also identify meaningful solutions that can help governments implement the World Trade Organization’s Trade Facilitation Agreement, which seeks to make cross-border trade simple, fast and cost-effective.

Ines Knäpper, the Alliance’s Innovation and Hackathon Lead, credited the initiative with helping to raise awareness on critical topics such as trade facilitation, e-waste, and cross-boundary movements.

“Even though we focused just on Rwanda, a landlocked country in East Africa, the participants were keen and eager to help our cause, because, they said, ‘we can learn something for our country as well, and we can have an impact at home,’ “ she said.