As the climate crisis worsens, it is clear there is too much CO2 and electronic waste being produced, while it is also evident that many parts of the world are experiencing drought. This year, Ireland’s Overshoot Day took place on April 21st, meaning all natural resources allocated for this year have already been used up. Going forward, as a society, Ireland will consume resources for the rest of the year at the expense of future generations.
In order to preserve resources, alternative business models and extended life spans of products need to be prioritised. Refurbed, together with Fraunhofer Austria Research GmbH, has investigated the amount of CO2 emissions, water and electronic waste that can be saved when buying a refurbished electronic device instead of a new one.
In the study of the product footprint of electronic devices, the total environmental impact of selected products in their first and second use phases (new purchase and refurbishment) has been calculated. This was discerned by using new comparative data collected worldwide surrounding the Apple iPhone 11, the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE, the Apple iPad Pro 4 2020, the Apple MacBook Air 2017 13.3“ and the Lenovo Thinkpad T460 i5.
The findings revealed that for new electronic devices, 80% of the CO2 lifetime emissions occur in the production phase. In the case of a brand-new Apple iPhone 11, it was found that 56.9 kg of CO2 is produced. By contrast, when refurbishing the same model, it emits just 2.8 kg per device. When looking at the total product footprint of a new Apple iPhone 11 taking into account production, material extraction, transport and consumer use, among other things, it produces a total of 72 kg of CO2.
A refurbished Apple iPhone 11, on the other hand, produces just 15.7 kg of CO2. Consumers who buy a refurbished Apple iPhone 11 instead of a new Apple iPhone 11 can therefore save 78% of CO2. CO2 savings are notably large, varying across the different product categories; ranging from 69%, for the refurbishment of a Lenovo Thinkpad T460 i5, to 83%, for the Apple MacBook Air 2017. The difference is substantial.
Additionally, the production of a new smartphone requires on average up to 13,000 litres (ls) of water. In the case of an Apple iPhone 11, the production requires 12,075 ls. The refurbishment of the same product requires only 1,695 ls. Consumers can therefore save 86% water should they decide to buy a refurbished Apple iPhone 11 instead of a new Apple iPhone 11. When looking at an Apple MacBook Air 2017 13.3“, almost 57,000 ls of water is used compared to 5,385 ls for its refurbished counterpart. This corresponds to a considerable water saving of 91%.
According to Global E-waste Monitor 2020 e-waste is the fastest-growing waste stream in European households. This is a result of the high consumption of electronic devices, short product life cycles, and few repair options. Furthermore, Final Report ProSUM states that in Europe alone, 10 million tonnes of e-waste is generated per year, only 40% of which is collected for recycling.
The figures of Fraunhofer Austria Research GmbH show the enormous environmental savings potential that is possible through refurbishment. For example, consumers can save up to 60% on e-waste by buying a refurbished Samsung Galaxy S20 instead of a new one. The savings potential for the Apple MacBook Air 2017 is even bigger, at 80%.
“These results are particularly important as we have taken a fully comprehensive look at all impact areas – *Scope 1, 2 and 3,” says study author Paul Rudorf from Fraunhofer Austria Research GmbH. “This does not take out a partial section, but quantifiably calculates the real impact a product has on our planet.”
Peter Windischhofer, co-founder of refurbed, also notes the valuable insights in the report: “We are positive that through the collection of comparable data and the transparent communication of the positive effects of refurbishment to consumers, we can help make the consumption of electronic products more sustainable. In Ireland, we now have a refurbished device in one in 30 households across the country. This is a positive development that supports the responsible use of resources.”
The complete study as well as additional media materials are available for download here
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