Opting for a refurbished electronic device can significantly reduce CO2 emissions, water consumption and e-waste, according to research by Refurbed and Fraunhofer Austria Research GmbH. The study compares the environmental impact of new and refurbished smartphones, tablets and laptops.
The study indicates that 80% of all CO2 emissions associated with electronic devices take place during the production phase, and that refurbishing devices results in 78% CO2 savings. Moreover, with refurbished smartphones, water usage is reduced by 86% and e-waste can be reduced by up to 80%.
If the climate crisis has made one thing clear, it is that too much CO2 and waste is being produced. In addition, we are running out of water in many parts of the world. To protect natural resources, alternative business models are needed and longer product lifespans are crucial. Refurbed – an online marketplace for refurbished electronic devices – and Fraunhofer Austria Research GmbH investigated how much CO2 emissions, water and electronic waste can really be saved when choosing a refurbished electronic device instead of a new one. The research analyses all impact areas to quantify the total environmental impact of products in the first (new purchase) and second phase of use (after refurbishment). New comparative data has been collected worldwide for two smartphones (Apple iPhone 11 and Samsung Galaxy S20 FE), two tablets (Apple iPad Pro 4 2020 and Lenovo Thinkpad T460 i5) and one laptop (Apple MacBook Air 2017 13.3″).
For new electronic devices, 80% of total CO2 emissions occur at the production stage. For the Apple iPhone 11, this amounts to 56.9 kg of CO2, equivalent to driving over 250 km by car roughly from Amsterdam to Cologne (Germany). In contrast, refurbishment results in only 2.8 kg of CO2 emissions per device. The total carbon footprint of a new Apple iPhone 11 takes into account not only manufacturing, but also raw material extraction, transportation and consumer use, and causes an emission of 72 kg of CO2. In contrast, a refurbished Apple iPhone 11 produces only 15.7 kg of CO2. As a result, consumers who buy a refurbished Apple iPhone 11 instead of a new Apple iPhone 11 can avoid 78% of CO2. CO2 savings vary between product categories and range from 69%, for the refurbishment of a Lenovo Thinkpad T460 i5, to 83%, for the 2017 Apple MacBook Air.
For new electronic devices, 80% of total CO2 emissions occur at the production stage
According to the Global E-Waste Monitor 2020, electronic waste (e-waste) is the fastest growing waste stream in European households. This is mainly caused by the ever-increasing consumption of electronic devices, short product life cycles and limited repair options. In addition, ProSUM indicates that 10 million tons of e-waste are produced annually in Europe alone, of which only about 40% are collected for recycling. Again, the figures from Fraunhofer Austria Research GmbH show the enormous potential for savings that can be achieved through refurbishment. For example, consumers can avoid 60% e-waste by buying a refurbished Samsung Galaxy S20 instead of a new one. For the Apple MacBook Air 2017, the savings potential is even greater and amounts to 80%. It is no coincidence that that a growing number of consumers are embracing refurbished products, as Andreas Mayer, CEO of Flex IT, concludes in this article.
Refurbishment means that damaged or broken components of electronic devices are repaired or replaced, all equipment is cleaned and thoroughly tested and software and firmware are updated. Services such as a warranty and certified data wiping are also included. Used IT hardware, also known as second-hand, is often mistaken to be identical to refurbished products. However, second-hand merely gives the product a new user while refurbished extends the maximum lifespan of a product.