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Study shows environmental value of refurbishing smart phones and tablets

Germany – The refurbishing of a single smartphone saves 14 kg of primary resources and 58 kg of greenhouse gas emissions, concludes Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute for Environmental, Safety and Energy Technology based on a new study commissioned by ALBA subsidiary Interseroh. The study findings were published on March 18 to coincide with Global Recycling Day.

The Fraunhofer researchers confirm ‘the positive environmental impact’ of the reconditioning and reuse of IT devices offered by Interseroh compared with buying a new product. In addition to smartphones, the scientists also examined tablets and discovered that the one-off reconditioning of a single tablet saves a total of 58 kg of primary resources and also reduces the emissions of climate-damaging gases by 139 kg.

Since no details on device composition were available from many manufacturers, the Fraunhofer experts relied largely on data from Apple. In Germany alone last year, consumers purchased some 24 million smartphones and 6.6 million tablets.

Furthermore, old devices are being replaced by new ones at increasingly short intervals. ‘If one considers the data calculated by Fraunhofer for all smartphones purchased in Germany last year – regardless of the brand – it is possible to calculate that their refurbishing alone is able to save some 1.4 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions,’ comments Jan Höschel, head of the ReUse business centre at Interseroh.

The Fraunhofer scientists have previously analysed the environmental impact of reusing PCs and notebooks, also on behalf of Interseroh. Combining the results of both studies, savings due to IT refurbishment by Interseroh amounted to more than 11 500 tonnes of primary resources and some 7000 tonnes of greenhouse gases – claimed to be equivalent to the annual emissions from around 4200 passenger cars.

The experts’ survey was based on the assumption that new and reconditioned smartphones and tablets are used for two years, while PCs and notebooks are used for three and a half years.

According to Dr Markus Hiebel, departmental director of sustainability and resources management at Fraunhofer UMSICHT, the survey demonstrates ‘the importance of the targeted extension of product lifecycles along the path to achieving an efficient loop economy’.

Interseroh’s refurbishment service targets companies whose IT and communication devices frequently have a short useful life, even though they are mostly still functional.


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