Return to news
Return to Knowledge Base

Sustainable holidays with refurbished electronics

Electronic products consistently top wish-lists. However, due to the required raw materials and energy consumption, these products have a significant environmental impact. How can you fulfill the wishes of your gadget-loving family in a sustainable manner?

How many gifts are you going to give this holiday season? And how many of them are electronic devices? E-readers, electric shavers, smartwatches, computer accessories, and gaming consoles; electronic products consistently top wish-lists. However, due to the required raw materials and energy consumption, these products have a significant environmental impact. How can you fulfill the wishes of your gadget-loving family in a sustainable manner?

Electronics: top Christmas gifts

Various studies indicate that electronics are highly desired gifts to give or receive during the holidays. A U.S. consumer behavior study states that electronics even rank third among the most purchased holiday gifts. In the United Kingdom, smartphones, tablets, and computers & computer gadgets all rank in the top 8 most desired items for the holidays. That’s why we must examine the environmental impact of these gifts. Because the wrapping paper does not only reveal a fun gadget but also a considerable environmental cost.

Impact of e-waste

Electronic devices have a substantial impact, especially at the end of their life when they are no longer used and not properly recycled. These devices are collectively termed e-waste, an abbreviation for electronic waste. Globally, this is the fastest-growing waste stream, with only 17% being correctly recycled. 

The leakage of toxic substances into the environment during waste processing causes significant environmental damage. Moreover, the extraction of raw materials for these devices is highly polluting, leading to valuable minerals and metals ending up in landfills. 

If you want to learn more, read our knowledge base article on e-waste.

Visual summarising why the impact is high

Refurbished isn't the same as 'Used'

If you choose an iPad, e-reader, or smartwatch this holiday season, opt for a refurbished version. Refurbished devices are gadgets that get a second life. However, refurbished isn't equivalent to 'used' devices.

Refurbished devices are items that were returned for various reasons. This might be because the buyer decided not to use the product, the packaging was damaged upon delivery, or a company no longer needed the devices and returned them.

Unlike used products, refurbished devices undergo thorough checks. They are tested, and if necessary, parts (such as screens or batteries) are replaced or repaired. The chips are cleaned, all data is wiped, and they're updated with the latest software. This can be done by the manufacturer or a third party.

Because they technically cannot be sold as new, these products are marketed as "Refurbished." Refurbished products are therefore an attractive and sustainable alternative to new electronic devices: they're cheaper but don't compromise on quality.

Why are refurbished devices sustainable?

Yes, the environment is a crucial factor. As mentioned earlier, e-waste is a global issue. Each year, over 50 million tons of electronics end up in landfills. Purchasing refurbished instead of new reduces the waste stream by extending the lifespan of these electronic products. Additionally, it significantly reduces the number of polluting devices in landfills.

Refurbishing contributes to the sustainable use of scarce raw materials. To manufacture all the chips, batteries, and other electronic components, various rare earth metals are required. Extending the average lifespan of devices by just one year could already result in a 30% decrease in e-waste!

Tons of resources saved

A United Nations report shows that for every 1 million refurbished or reused smartphones, 16,000 tons of resources are saved, including metals like gold, silver, and other scarce materials. Furthermore, reusing a smartphone reduces CO2 emissions by 45 kg CO2-eq compared to a new phone. The production of a new laptop emits around 331 kg CO2-eq. The emissions from refurbishing a laptop are generally negligible, at <1 kg CO2-eq.

Energy conservation is also a significant reason to opt for a refurbished item. Between 80% and 90% of a smartphone's energy consumption occurs during the production phase, not during the user phase. Processes such as raw material extraction, refining, transport, and assembly into a final product are highly energy-intensive. Therefore, producing a new laptop or smartphone can consume up to 50 times more energy than a refurbished model.

Visual communicating why refurbishment is good

Save Time and Money!

If you're tight on budget this holiday season, or you wish to spend your money on other things, refurbished devices can save you a lot of money. Because sellers can't market these products as new, their prices drop significantly. A refurbished smartphone can often be purchased for half the price of a new one.

Furthermore, there are increasingly more providers of refurbished items in the market. There are websites that compare various refurbished products. As well, more and more online stores and manufacturers have dedicated sections for refurbished electronics. Just a quick Google search can lead you to them. Besides from being more sustainable and cheaper, buying a refurbished device is also becoming easier.

Reliability of refurbished products

As more refurbished item providers are in the market, it's essential to ensure the store you're buying from is reliable. Can you contact them for queries, or is there a return policy after purchase? It's also worthwhile to read reviews and check the warranty conditions.

There are several certifications or guidelines to watch for. These may or may not be listed on the website where you plan to purchase your product. Here are three:

Certified Renewed: This certification is often used by major manufacturers to certify their own refurbished products. It signifies a thorough inspection and repair of the device according to the manufacturer's standards.

Refurbished Certification Programs: Some companies and organizations have their own certification programs for refurbished products. Examples include Amazon's "Certified Refurbished" program and Apple's "Certified Pre-Owned" program.

ISO Certification: ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 are standards for quality management and environmental management followed by some companies when refurbishing products. A company with these certifications can demonstrate that it meets certain quality and environmental standards.

Companies and Refurbished Products

The refurbished market is steadily growing. Especially, businesses are increasingly purchasing used electronics like computers, monitors, and phones. Understandably, as it's often much cheaper and provides employees with quality equipment. However, refurbished items still need to gain more ground in the consumer market. Therefore, let's all opt for this sustainable alternative during the holiday season!

So, plenty of reasons to make your uncle happy with a refurbished gadget this holiday, save a lot of waste and promote the circular economy. Plus, you'll have an engaging story to share during family gatherings. Win-win-win!

Wishing you sustainable holidays in advance!

Sites for comparing refurbished items

IT and Consumer Electronics are among the focus sectors of Hedgehog Company. We've assisted many businesses in becoming more sustainable in this area, such as calculating the impact of products via Life Cycle Assessments. Contact us if you too want to take steps toward sustainability.


Read more about e-waste & sustainability
Read moreRead moreRead moreRead more
This article is written by:
Writing & research
Send emailLinkedInBook a meeting
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.