Refurbishing: the solution to planned obsolescence?

Imagine giving a new and eco-friendly lease of life to high-tech and electrical goods languishing at the back of your cupboards… Well, now you can by getting them refurbished.

What is refurbishing?

With planned obsolescence now almost expected (1) and consumers judging designs to be out-of-date in no time at all, our dear smartphones are not being treated well. Indeed, after 18 months to two years of loyal service, many of our phones end up in the bin, adding to the 1.4 million tonnes of electrical and electronic waste generated by the French each year: a real environmental disaster…

And recycling isn’t the solution! In fact, although we have been recycling much more in recent years (2), this inevitably also means manufacturing new phones: the most polluting stage in these devices’ lifecycles. For example, 85% of the CO2 emissions for an iPhone 6 are generated when it is made.

So, if we want to give our phones a new lease of life, what sustainable, green solutions are out there?
As well as getting repairs, which will extend your phone’s life, you can sell your device on to professionals who will recondition and resell it.

In repairs jargon, we call this a refurbished device.

This means collecting used devices, reconditioning them, then reselling them at second-hand prices. Refurbishing takes place at factories using industrial methods and quality levels, plus standard and approved parts. By reducing electronic devices’ impact while providing nearly-new services, refurbishing offers the best of both worlds to limit some of planned obsolescence’s harmful effects. There is now a huge desire for tech products (in France, 600 million devices are sold annually). Refurbishing helps slow production, while extending product lifespans.


Platforms for refurbished products

So, what should you do if you want to buy refurbished devices and do something good for the planet as best you can?

Although the major electronics players and other resellers (Apple, Amazon, Fnac, etc.) are interested in this area, there are some refurbishing-only initiatives being launched in France so “old” phone models that still work perfectly don’t end up shunned at the back of a drawer.

One such platform selling refurbished products is Back Market. The idea is to finally give second-hand tech products their moment of glory. This is done by working with refurbishing businesses who recondition electronic devices, complying with strict quality standards, before selling them on at attractive prices. Back Market aims to offer “re-made in France” and combat planned obsolescence by making re-use more glamorous.

Its main goal is to promote strong circular economy values, offering consumers different solutions, optimising our resources and building on the progress made by the third industrial revolution to create virtuous consumption patterns. All these goals give meaning to and set the scope for Back Market‘s work. This is a business that doesn’t believe used electrical and electronic devices have to necessarily be obsolete.

The ideal in the long term would be for consumers to first check if there are any refurbished versions of the product they want before only buying new if necessary.


Going beyond the smartphone

Electrical and electronic goods other than phones can also be refurbished and Back Market has recently expanded its offering.

  1. Apple has publicly stated that iOS devices had an average lifespan of 3 years
  2. Almost 80% of the 455,000 tonnes of electrical and electronic waste collected by eco-organisations is recycled
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