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Responsible consumption and production

Stewart McGrenary: Why Re-use and Refurbished Smartphones are Part of the Solution to Circular Economy Shift for E-waste

By Stewart McGrenary | May 2020


Technology has come a long way toward making our lives easier and more connected than ever before. What was once a simple device to make and receive phone calls, has morphed into one of the most important pieces of tech we own. We’re talking of course about the modern smartphone.

Most of us couldn’t imagine navigating our daily lives in this day and age without a smartphone. In addition to serving as our main means of communication with the world, they also provide entertainment, assistance with work and business dealings, banking, commerce, and even education. Whatever need you can think of, there’s likely an app for that. But the average person replaces their smartphone once every 2 years or so, and this is creating a mountain of e-waste that is unsustainable long term.

The Tech Giants’ Gains at the Planet’s Expense

Of course, it’s in the tech companies’ best interests to keep us hooked on continuously upgrading to this week’s flashy new device. How many times have you found yourself envying a friend’s brand new version of your current phone and feeling like yours is drab and sluggish in comparison? Well as it turns out, you may not be imagining things. Some of the biggest tech companies have openly admitted to slowing down older devices when a new model comes out. It’s a sneaky tactic used to keep you on the hook, needing to buy the newest version in order to keep up to speed with work and personal projects in a world that is more tech-reliant by the day.

As long as we keep lining the tech industries’ pockets, this wasteful practice will continue at a devastating price to our planet. Aside from doing your part to lower the impact of e-waste, reach out to your favourite companies and encourage them to move toward more sustainable practices and support companies that are already taking the initiative to do so.

The Growing Island of Forgotten Toys

The ever-expanding mountain of electronic waste has become too large of a problem to ignore any longer. The world produces 50 million tonnes of e-waste annually, with the UK landing itself within the top 10 producers of e-waste in the world.

Currently, only about 20% of electronic devices are recycled. By upping that number even a fraction, we could spare the planet from a big chunk of that waste and start building toward a circular economy shift. Re-using old devices and taking advantage of services that refurbish electronics will go a long way toward putting a dent in Scotland’s contribution to this global crisis.  Companies are taking notice with those such as Plunc providing consumers with an easy and efficient way to sell used iPads that can be refurbished or recycled.

The Current Model is on the Fast Track to Collapse

Something most tech companies don’t want to admit is that no matter how profitable the current upgrade culture model is, it’s unsustainable in the long run.

Many modern devices, specifically smartphones and tablets, rely on rare mined elements for some of their core components. In fact, out of the 75 elements used in smartphone and tablet production, 11 of them are on the verge of extinction! The tech industry is racing to find alternatives, but many experts believe the clock may run out before that happens.

How can we avoid tipping over the breaking point? Modern companies face two options; drop their current business model in favour of building devices designed to last longer, or embrace recycling and refurbishing efforts need to be amped up in a big way. When properly recycled, many of these elements can be recovered from old devices and reused to create new pieces of tech.

Doing Your Part: Reduce! Reuse! Refurbish!

Known as the three R’s, reduce, reuse, recycle has been a mantra to the environmentally aware for generations now when it comes to managing our day to day waste. But as technology becomes ever more fleeting, we feel it’s time to start applying this bit of wisdom to the tech-sphere with a bit of a modern twist, reduce, reuse, refurbish!

How does this apply to modern smartphones?

Reduce! The first step you can take is to remove yourself from the upgrade culture. We know it isn’t possible to hold off on replacing gadgets forever. We understand there is an increasing need to have devices that function properly with modern software and apps in order to stay up to date personally and professionally. But there is often a wide gap between the newest upgrade and an older device becoming obsolete. Simply allow yourself to hold off a bit longer before upgrading to the newest version of your current gadget. If everyone in Scotland were to spend a bit more time with each smartphone before upgrading, the environmental impact could be huge!

Reuse! Have an old or broken smartphone that you just can’t bear to use for another day? Instead of running off and buying a brand new replacement, consider buying something that’s been slightly used or even asking friends and family if they have an extra phone that isn’t being used since their last upgrade. There are currently a lot of great and reliable options for used and refurbished smartphones and tablets on the market.

Refurbish! Most of us are guilty of having a few old devices lying around collecting dust. Did you know there are companies that will buy your old electronic devices to fix them and resell them? Not only is this great for the environment, but the bit of extra cash in your pocket is also a great added perk. And of course, as a last resort if your smartphone is beyond repair or simply too old to resell, make sure to properly recycle it. Most electronic devices must be put in special bins or taken to electronic recycling centres in order to be properly recycled.

A Brighter Future Ahead

Overall, with some slight changes to our daily routines and a bit of recycling awareness, we can make a shift toward a brighter and more sustainable future!

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