Don’t scrap it! Refurbish it!

A new life for used smartphones or engines: is refurbishment a sustainable solution for electrical waste? An expert answers.

Why throw it away? Refurbishment is a better alternative.
Why throw it away? Refurbishment is a better alternative. AdobeStock/Maksym Yemelyanov

More and more companies are specialising on refurbishment and the sale of refurbished equipment. That is the business model of online marketplaces like or Sebastian Schötz explains how this works and what the benefits are. The expert at the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation in Bayreuth is conducting research into factory-scale reconditioning.

Sebastian Schötz, expert on environmentally friendly production technology
Sebastian Schötz, expert on environmentally friendly production technology Universität Bayreuth

Mr Schötz, what is refurbishment and what differentiates it from recycling?

Refurbishment is the reconditioning of used products that facilitates a new period of use. Recycling involves the use of the materials in a product – for example, it is shredded so that the raw materials can be reused. Refurbishment means the product itself can be reused.

What kinds of equipment are refurbished?

The range of products is enormous. It begins with consumer electronics – for example, smartphones, printers, monitors and printer cartridges.  But also includes car parts like engines and superchargers – this will also apply to electric vehicle parts soon – and even large machines and installations, such as wind turbines.

What are the benefits of refurbishment for the environment and the consumer?

It saves energy and materials. It reduces the drain on primary resources, which no longer need to be extracted because they are already available in the product. You produce less greenhouse gas emissions and less waste, because the products are not thrown away, but are returned to the market in a refurbished state and used again.

Consumers save money because as a rule refurbished products have lower prices. Furthermore, it increases the availability of spare parts. When spare parts are no longer manufactured or held in storage by automobile or engineering companies, new parts become unavailable on the market. But then you can fall back on refurbished parts. Production downtime in factories can sometimes be significantly reduced if parts can be reconditioned instead of waiting weeks for the delivery of new ones.

What needs to be done to make the refurbishment of technical equipment more widely accepted in society?

Generally, we need to create an awareness of the fact that this is possible. Manufacturers should also offer refurbished products, not just new ones. And they should demonstrate that the quality of these reconditioned parts is good – for example, with test reports or by offering the same guarantee as for new products. If customers can get a very high quality product for a very low price, the word soon gets around.

Interview: Christina Rath


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