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Pre-owned and pre-loved electronics taking over

The global refurbished electronics market is expected to be worth over US$ 228 billion by 2030. ‘The world is heading towards more repair, reuse and refurbished devices; the trend has been going strong for years now and we’re very happy about that,’ says Elizabeth Chamberlain, director of sustainability at online repair community iFixit.

‘Repairing and refurbishing devices is already a huge industry with a lot of potential for growth,’ asserts iFixit’s Elisabeth Chamberlain. ‘Our team has seen the rise in popularity first-hand: we now have almost 1.5 million users worldwide and we’ve recently moved to a bigger office, allowing us to expand our workforce.’

In our own hands

The E-scrap Conference in New Orleans is one of many events on Chamberlain’s itinerary as she and company founder Kyle Wiens go ‘on tour’ to network with recyclers and producers. Their efforts scored a major milestone in August with New York being the first US state to adopt ‘right to repair’ legislation. 

‘Not too long ago, producers weren’t exactly thrilled about the idea of people taking repair into their own hands, especially market leaders like Apple,’ Chamberlain recalls. The company has since softened its opposition to repair by third parties.

Additionally, Google Pixel sustainability expert Ted Briggs took the New Orleans assembly as an opportunity to announce a partnership with iFixit for its upcoming product line, news which was met with nods of appreciation. ‘The world is changing fast, it feels like we can’t keep up,’ Briggs told delegates. ‘We must try and be open-minded. When we gather next year, I’m sure we won’t be the only brand with this point of view.’

Briggs expects repair costs to go down significantly as the market grows and matures. That will be an extra incentive for producers currently on the fence to explore refurbished devices as a ‘serious option’.

A sustainability ‘win

‘I am so proud to hear an official Google representative make a statement in public, with recyclers attending,’ Chamberlain tells Recycling International. ‘The collaboration has been in the works for a while. I can only hope more big names will follow suit.’

She believes momentum ‘is on our side’ as a result of greater interest from the public and companies to order pre-owned devices. Electronics that are not new are no longer frowned upon, she insists.

‘People have come to realise that second-life electronics are high-quality goods, handled with care by specialists. Besides, consumers have been working on the car in their garage for years, so why not their phones and laptops? They’re excited to fix their own stuff.’

On the whole, Chamberlain argues, this is a win for sustainability. ‘Isn’t the main idea to prolong the lifecycle of whatever we buy? Repair shouldn’t be viewed as a trend that works against recycling. On the one side, we may see less e-scrap coming in. The change in volume is marginal – I doubt it will put recyclers out of business,’ she adds with a laugh.

Hoarding is another factor. ‘Devices are being kept longer. A lot are stuck in hibernation. By making people more mindful of their own electronics, iFixit may actually help improve the recycling rates of these old, forgotten devices.’

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