While some may be skeptical of buying a used smartphone, a refurbished phone has several environmental benefits. Refurbishing helps promote circular economy principles and reduces electronic waste and raw material extraction.
On average, a refurbished device has an environmental impact of two to four times less than the production of a new one. The reason for this is that refurbished phones are repaired and restored instead of discarded.
Reduces the Need for Raw Materials
One of the biggest reasons buying refurbished phones is good for the environment is because it reduces the need to mine and manufacture new devices. Phone production requires a lot of raw materials such as gold, silver, silicon, lithium, and other metals. These minerals are all found on the Earth, and mining them is very resource-intensive. These mining operations cause significant CO2 emissions, contributing to climate change and environmental harm.
When people buy refurbished phones, they allow them to have another life rather than ending up in landfills or getting recycled into something else. The reconditioning process uses up to 2 to 4 times less energy than producing a new device. According to a study by Ademe (French Agency for Ecological Transition), this is true even when the battery and charger are replaced, or the phone has been sold with other accessories such as earphones.
Aside from reducing the need to mine and produce new devices, refurbishing also helps preserve raw materials such as aluminum and glass. These materials aren’t biodegradable, so if they end up in landfills or the natural environment, they will be there for hundreds of years, polluting our oceans and causing other environmental damage. Refurbished phones keep these materials in circulation and prevent them from becoming e-waste, which is a huge problem that needs to be addressed.
Preserves Raw Materials
The production of electronic devices requires many resources that can be extracted from the Earth. The environmental impacts associated with these materials are significant, including the mining and transportation of raw materials, as well as the waste that is generated when these products are discarded. These pollutants can damage the environment and poison our water supply. When consumers buy refurbished phones, they reduce the need for new phone manufacturing and help conserve these precious natural resources.
According to a study by the French Agency for Ecological Transition (Ademe), smartphones generate around 85 kilograms of emissions in their first year of use, 80% of which come from their manufacturing stage. This is due to the extraction of a wide range of raw materials, such as iron and aluminum for frames, glass and screens, silicon for circuits, copper, silver, and gold for electrical components, lithium batteries, and graphite for processors.
In addition, the extraction of some of these raw materials, such as cobalt, cassiterite, and tungsten, is often done using child labor. These minerals are also called conflict minerals because they are often mined in regions where armed conflicts occur, and the workers who extract them are sometimes victims of violence and abuse. Purchasing refurbished phones helps to reduce the need for these minerals, and it is an excellent way to promote sustainable development in these areas.
Reduces Greenhouse Gas Emissions
A refurbished phone emits significantly less greenhouse gas emissions than its new counterpart. The climate impacts of extracting raw materials, manufacturing, and shipping a single smartphone can be estimated at approximately 85kg of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e). By buying a refurbished device, consumers can reduce these CO2e emissions by up to 95%.
Another environmental benefit of refurbishing phones is that it helps to conserve and preserve raw materials such as metals and rare earth elements. This is because the longer a phone is used, the more time between the need to produce a new device and when it must be replaced.
It also helps to avoid e-waste by diverting end-of-life technology away from landfills or improper disposal. This reduces pollution and the need to mine more raw materials, which can be finite.
Refurbished devices can also offer consumers more choice as older and niche models become available. This enhances personalization and enables individuals to stand out with unique devices that reflect their personality.
However, the benefits of buying refurbished devices still need to be widely understood by many consumers. This is because only some retailers and mobile network operators communicate the impact that a refurbished device can have on their overall environmental footprint or carbon handprint. More methodologies need to be developed to quantify the positive environmental impact of a refurbished product; it will remain challenging for the industry to put sustainability at the heart of its business model.
Every year, millions of new smartphones are churned out by factories. Their glitzy packaging lures us into buying them, but we may need to realize that the production of those phones has a significant environmental impact. Not only does the manufacturing process guzzle up a lot of carbon, but it also damages the environment by polluting air and water. Furthermore, extracting the rare earth minerals needed to make those smartphones can cause environmental damage by deforesting land and contaminating the surrounding areas.
In addition, a lot of the e-waste generated is then shipped around the world to be landfilled in poorer countries. This e-waste pollutes the environments of those nations and also exposes people to dangerous substances.
It is a significant problem that needs to be prevented. Thankfully, there are many ways that consumers can help reduce the amount of e-waste that is produced. One way is to buy refurbished devices instead of brand-new ones. While the refurbishing process still has some environmental impact, it is far less than creating a new smartphone.
Another great way to reduce e-waste is to extend the lifespan of electronic devices. Using protective cases and updating software regularly helps ensure that our phones still function correctly for extended periods. This will reduce the number of phones that need to be recycled, and it will also keep their parts available for manufacturers to use when they are making new devices.