ERTH: Turning Trash into Treasure

14 November 2023

In an age when our electronic gadgets become obsolete faster than you can say “upgrade,” the world is grappling with an alarming environmental crisis – electronic waste or e-waste. E-waste is the fastest-growing waste stream globally, causing significant harm to our planet. But there’s a glimmer of hope on the horizon, and it’s coming from the heart of Malaysia, thanks to the remarkable efforts of Mohamad “Mo” Tarek El-Fatatry and his wife and Co-founder, Nahed Eletribi.

Mo and Nahed are on a mission to make the world a better place for future generations, and they are doing it in a truly heroic fashion. When they learned about Malaysia’s illegal e-waste smuggling activities and how a shipment bound for China ended up polluting their beloved adopted country in 2018, they knew something had to change. That’s when the vision for their venture was born. In 2019, they founded “ERTH,” which stands for Electronic Recycling Through Heroes.

Mo passionately points out that if e-waste is not recycled properly, the toxic heavy metals within will eventually seep into the earth and contaminate the food chain. He believes that as our dependence on gadgets grows, the problem will only worsen, leading to potential health risks.

ERTH employs a unique and exciting workforce – they call them “Heroes.” These Heroes, consisting of over 1,000 gig workers to-date, roam the streets, collect e-waste from the public, and maintain designated drop-off areas. Their primary role is to rescue obsolete, faulty and discarded electronics from homes and businesses to divert them from landfills or the informal sector. This approach not only helps the environment but also provides economic opportunities for a large number of freelancers.

The ultimate goal of ERTH is to raise awareness about companies like theirs, which are dedicated to responsible e-waste recycling in Malaysia. Mo emphasises that there are existing recycling companies in the country, but the public is largely unaware of them. Mo and Nahed saw an opportunity to bridge the gap between e-waste generators and recyclers, striving to preserve the planet for future generations.

Fast forward to 2023, and ERTH has already made waves in the field. They have not only raised awareness but also garnered recognition for their exceptional work. ERTH was the grand winner of the 2019 International Youth Innovation Conference (IYIC) in Shenzhen, which was organised by the Shenzhen Federation of Youth Entrepreneurship Promotion, Malaysia champion of Alipay-NUS Enterprise Social Innovation Challenge and won the Best Environmental Impact (SME) award at the Europa Awards for Sustainability by the EU-Malaysia Chamber of Commerce & Industry in 2019.

Apart from that, they won the iF Social Impact Prize, Malaysia Champion of the Entrepreneurship World Cup for 2020 and were the inaugural winners of the prestigious Maxis Awards in 2021 for their forward-thinking solutions towards nature conservation and environmental sustainability as well as being named the Top Authorised Collection Centre by the Department of Environment (DOE).

Despite the recognition, the prospect of preserving life and practising sustainability led ERTH to the attention of the Gobi Dana Impak Ventures (GDIV) fund, backed by Malaysian sovereign wealth fund Khazanah Nasional (Khazanah).

GDIV is part of Khazanah’s Future Malaysia Programme under its Dana Impak (Impact Fund) mandate, which in turn, is a key pillar under Khazanah’s Advancing Malaysia strategy.

“Since having GDIV on board, I am excited to take the next step in introducing some of the best practices in e-waste recycling, and I hope to bring some of the things I learnt and saw in Finland to Malaysia,” said Mo, who was born in the United Arab Emirates before moving to Finland and becoming a naturalised Finnish citizen.

“I hope people realise that e-waste is only a small fraction of the waste per household, but the toxins it releases into the earth contribute to 70% of all toxic heavy metals found in the environment. To deter this, we need to raise a lot of awareness, which is costly and time-consuming. With Gobi on board, it has opened so many doors for us, and the recognition and reach are priceless. Together, I am confident that we can find a solution to the ever-growing problems of e-waste in Malaysia and beyond,” he said.

Mo and Nahed’s vision, as showcased by ERTH, is a beacon of hope in the struggle against the growing mountain of electronic waste. Their Heroes are not just recycling gadgets; they are also recycling hope, promising a cleaner, greener future for all of us and future generations.

This has been part of the #GobiDanaImpakVentures: Empowering Malaysia series.