This Environmentalist Wants To Make E-Waste A Thing Of The Past

By Richard Lord

A recipient of the inaugural Maxis Awards, entrepreneur Mohamed Tarek El-Fatatry wants to improve his electronic waste-collecting operations by monitoring his network of gig workers in real-time

Tatler Asia
Cover  Mohamed Tarek El-Fatatry. (Photo: Imran Sulaiman)
In Partnership With

Mohamed Tarek El-Fatatry is trying to make e-waste a thing of the past. The Maxis Awards winner runs Erth, a Malaysian company that collects unwanted electronic devices from individuals and companies, even offering them cash rewards, and then delivering them to recyclers. 
Of Egyptian heritage, "Mo" as he is sometimes known, was born in the United Arab Emirates and moved to Finland as a teenager to study. His first startup was lifestyle portal Muxlim, after which he went back to university to study business and, deciding he wanted to make a positive impact, settled on climate change as the area in which to do so. Mo's initial solution was to provide infrastructure, in the form of a mobile solar power and WiFi solution within a shipping container, intended for deployment in African villages. It won innovation awards and opened the door to a lot of potential investors. 

“One of them asked a question I wasn’t prepared for: ‘Can you guarantee that in 20 years if your device fails, there will be proper recycling infrastructure in the village?’ The answer was no. So, you’re solving a 20-year problem by creating a 100-year problem.” 

This eureka moment caused him to pivot to e-waste. He moved to Malaysia in 2018, soon after China banned e-waste imports, resulting in much of it being re-routed to the country. “I realised Malaysia doesn’t only have this problem from outside, but it is also drowning in its own e-waste,” he says. 

See also: How GoGet’s Francesca Chia Is Creating A Sustainable Future For Malaysia’s Gig Workers

Tatler Asia
E-waste needs to be disposed properly as it contains many chemicals that are harmful to people and the environment. (Photo: Pixabay)
Above  E-waste needs to be disposed properly as it contains many chemicals that are harmful to people and the environment. (Photo: Pixabay)

He went to a major shopping mall and observed a mobile phone dealer about to dump thousands of Nokia phones in the trash—particularly painful for an adopted Finn. After asking the dealer to wait a day, Mo called a recycling company—and was able to give the dealer US$1,000 for the phones, and receive US$2,000 from the recycler. “The e-waste and the factory both existed, but they didn’t have any way to connect,” he says. “Connecting them had tremendous value, both environmental and economic.” 

The organisation’s big points of difference are the generous rewards it offers—as much as US$100 for a fairly new laptop in good condition—and the fact that it’s prepared to come and collect as few as three devices. Its collections started off 90 percent domestic but now about 40 percent are businesses, which previously often had arrangements with recyclers who collected as infrequently as twice a year. The greater frequency is enabled by Erth’s collection model: instead of full-time staff, the company employs a network of about 1,000 gig economy freelancers it refers to as “Heroes”. The company’s name officially stands for E-waste Recycling Through Heroes. 

See also: How FatHopes Energy’s Vinesh Sinha Is Turning Food Waste Into Sustainable Fuel

Until now, though, Erth has struggled to track those Heroes as they go about their work. With everything from dispatching to tracking of orders currently carried out manually, the company has not been in real-time contact with its drivers, while total distances have been based solely on driver declarations. That has also made it difficult to extract data for monthly reports.

Erth’s solution will be to adopt a customised version of Maxis’ mWorkforce product, which will allow it to track drivers in real-time, helping it to improve monitoring, accountability and productivity. It will also invest some of its Maxis Award winnings into marketing to help raise awareness and the remainder towards cash rewards for Erth customers, Mo says. 

 “Maxis has created an award that’s squarely about sustainability. It's accelerating the pace of digital adoption but is also concerned about the environmental impact of electronic devices. I thought the company was very genuine, and it can really help us: if only 0.1 percent of their subscribers end up recycling with us, we can grow Erth by five times.” 

Tatler Asia
Maxis head of enterprise products, Selvakumar Rajasekaran
Above  Maxis head of enterprise products, Selvakumar Rajasekaran

On Erth's selection for the inaugural Maxis Awards, Selvakumar Rajasekaran, Maxis' head of enterprise products says: “We applaud the commitment by Erth in protecting the environment in a sustainable manner. Tech can play such a critical role in social impact, and we are pleased to be able to support Erth's inspiring idea with our mWorkforce solution, which fits perfectly with their needs. It is a comprehensive solution that uses a wide range of features for businesses with a mobile workforce, empowering them to enhance employee productivity and performance, as well as boost the operational efficiency of the business.” 

Read more about the Maxis Awards and how it aims to empower Malaysians.

© 2022 Tatler Asia Limited. All rights reserved.