GreenTech: When Recycling Means Repair

Is frugality coming back in style? We think it might be, especially in the electronics space. As America continues to wrestle to subdue inflation, we’re seeing more people opt for refurbished and second-hand phones and other electronics. Estimated sales of these types of devices passed 282 million last year, those are expected to reach 413.3 million by 2026.

This could be a good thing. We say that because this is the perfect opportunity for people to get meaningfully involved in sustainability goals, without having to disrupt their already-busy lives. When it comes to refurbished and second-hand electronics, it’s win-win. You get a new phone or gadget that doesn’t break the bank, is good for sustainability goals, the seller makes a buck, and everyone walks away happy.

Mend And Make Do

We think the trend toward refurbished and second-hand may go even deeper. If there’s one thing Americans love, it’s getting our hands dirty. We like DIY and enjoying the feeling of knowing we worked on something with our own two, bare hands. We’re seeing that play out in the battle for the right to repair… people seem a little ticked at the perceived pressure to buy a brand-new model electronic every year, one that they can’t even repair.

Since the right-to-repair goes hand-in-hand with less harm to the environment… it will be interesting to see how new attitudes help shape the next iteration of electronics and how we consume them. From Brit MPs challenging Apple over questions about repairability and the environment, letters to the FCC asking why US carriers are locking handsets to networks, and more consumers watching their cash more closely, changes are afoot.

What exactly is right-to-repair? We think of it this way… remember when the truck used to break down and you fixed it yourself? Same with the washing machine, shingles on the roof… just about anything. Then, our society slowly migrated to a “throw away” society. And it brought us into a new world where we could do sterile surgery on the battlefield thanks to plastic, reproduce less expensive goods so more of the population could enjoy things… it was pretty great.

Fast forward to today, and we’re figuring out that we may miss those days a little bit. It’s not that we haven’t had fun, fun we can still have, but we have to switch up the game a bit, so we use our resources wisely. So, we’re rewinding time a little, but now we’re calling fixing something yourself “right-to-repair”. Once upon a time, we would have just called it fixing something, as used to be customary.

Regift, Refurbish, Renew

If you want to know what it looks like to shop for refurbished electronics, and how it’s different from buying new, a prime example is Back Market. Founded in 2014, the company operates an online refurbished goods marketplace where small and medium enterprises, startups, and consumers can buy electronics at reduced prices. The company recycles old technology, then places it for sale on the platform. Back Market’s vision is the reduction of mass production and electronic waste. They’re a prime example of the types of companies that have cropped up and are now growing in demand.

It’s not just newer companies venturing into refurbished and second-hand, we’re seeing large, well-established folks getting involved as well. Some have decided to lean way into refurbishment rather than fighting it, like Toyota. The company recently floated the idea of converting old car’s inner workings using cleaner technology, like fuel cells, at the Tokyo Auto Salon as a means to accelerate the global move toward sustainable vehicles.

Is this what the people want? If so, someone give it to them! It may be exactly what they want… according to a survey by Keany, almost 30% of respondents across Europe and North America would go for a refurbished product over a brand-new one, as long as the quality was there. Keep coming back, we’ll keep exploring how this and other changes in our world are continuing to shape the green technology space.