Consumer Electronic OEMs Embrace Profitable Circular Repair and Refurbishment Models While Closing the Loop on e-Waste

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By Rithika Thomas | 2Q 2024 | IN-7370

The speed and scale of the growth of e-waste is a growing environmental concern. Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) are focusing on circular uses cases to extend the use phase lifecycle of consumer technology goods, identifying profitable circular business models through recertification of refurbished goods and supply chain transparency software tools to recover finite raw materials.

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Refurbishing Consumer Electronics—Moving from Niche to Norm


The Global Electronics Council (GEC) reports that the global electronics industry accounts for 4% of the total Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions. Every aspect of an electronic device has an environmental impact from raw material mining, production, shipping, operating the device, and disposal. The United Nations (UN) led Global E-waste Monitor 2020 records that 17% of the e-waste gets recycled, while the other 83% is sent to landfills, amounting to 350 million tons. Consumers and electronic manufacturers are making a conscious effort to become more circular through repairing defective products, refurbishing pre-used items, and recycling with financially viable business models.

  • Hewlett Packard (HP) is scaling up its circular business with the launch of HP Renew Solutions, a for-profit business refurbishing Personal Computers (PCs) and printers with the same margin as new products, as well as driving HP’s long-term goals of reaching 75% circularity for products and packaging by 2030.
  • Chilean startup Reuse raises US$4.5 million to expand its refurbished electronics marketplace in Mexico and has generated US$15 million in revenue in 2023.
  • Vienna, Austria-based marketplace startup Refurbed secures US$57 million in Series C funding for further growth and market expansion. The startup operates in Italy, Sweden, Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands, as well as Germany and Austria and sold €1 billion in merchandise in June 2023.
  • Reboxed, a London-headquartered B-Corp-certified sustainable tech startup has secured £1.6 million in seed funding. It offers premium refurbished and pre-owned devices, including phones, laptops, tablets, and smartwatches with a focus on quality, consistency, and a circular approach.

All electronic waste contains valuable finite raw materials such as gold, silver, copper and palladium—the Global E-waste Monitor report found that an estimated US$10 billion of precious metals reaches a landfill every year, excluding the financial value of embedded energy, labor and value are lost.

Strategic Shift "Repairing and Refurbishing" from an Afterthought to the First Thought


Mounting Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) pressures are forcing businesses to rethink product design, increase awareness, and define business models to include buy-back or repair services. Creating an ecosystem partner to extend the life span of an electronic device, repair services, reduce waste, and promote circular economy is a gateway into the market. “Recommerce,” the process of selling used, repaired, or refurbished goods, is focusing on creating high-quality technology and value for everyone and is gaining traction. Electronic products need to be redesigned to be repairable through modular designs with interchangeable parts; otherwise, components/parts that could be reused are going to waste. Buy-back schemes encourage brands and manufacturers to understand the end of life of products, extract materials of value, and improve recoverability.

Refurbished devices for second-hand purchase should be prepared with data destruction in compliance with Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) regulations, as well as shredding motherboards and hard drives. Electronics that can’t be refurbished are broken down into base components and melted into ingots for reuse. For consumers, the cost and ease of repair is an important factor in repairing and refurbishing a product. For instance, to replace a damaged iPhone 12 display, the customer pays over US$250; for a 1 to 2-year-old product, the price point is viable, but for older products, repairing the device is not. Currently, sales of  repaired and refurbished products are predominantly via online retailers and marketplaces, highlighting a potential revenue opportunity for physical retailers and branded stores to diversify their product offerings to cater to the environmentally conscious customer.

Will Digital Product Passports Drive the Refurbished & Second Life Consumer Technology Market?


The fast growth of e-waste is an increasing environmental issue, as electronics Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) shift priorities to increasing the life span of consumer products by providing information about maintenance, battery health, etc.—all critical information that benefits  consumers and potential resale/secondary markets. The Digital Product Passport (DPP) is a critical tool to provide information about products to the entire value chain on an open platform hosting information on raw materials, production, manufacturing practices, battery health, product repair/maintenance records, and verification of product compliance and authenticity. ABI Research estimates that, by 2030, more than 365.8 million DPPs will have been globally created for desktops, handsets, and notebooks with the intention of extending the product and material lifecycles either through refurbishing, second life, or critical metal reuse.

DPP for electronics and Information and Communications Technology (ICT) will be mandatory from 2027 in the European Union (EU) and will gradually penetrate North America, Asia-Pacific, and the Rest of the World by 2030 with industry leaders like Apple, Samsung, DELL, HP, etc. using DPPs to share product information, collect data on repairs and maintenance, and authenticate products for the secondhand market. Forward thinking OEMs are using DPPs to identify hotspots in their supply chain, improve operations, and shift product value to functionality to sustain long-term customer interaction. In addition to cementing strategic partnerships with regulators, suppliers across the value chain and solution providers have a common goal to lower environmental impact product lifecycles. Thus, DPPs for consumer electronic goods will be a tool to support the increased volume of refurbished consumer electronics by improving quality and transparency of product information, materials, repair service, and maintenance logs, as well as the recovery of critical raw materials in consumer electronic devices. More information can be found in ABI Research’s Digital Product Passports: Tech-Driven Sustainability and Traceability for EV Batteries, Construction Materials, and Pilot Use Cases report (AN-5868), Digital Product Passport through Value Chain Mapping market data (MD-DPVCM-23), and Digital Product Passport through Value Chain Mapping presentation (PT-3089).