The key to transforming the circular economy

Technology has integrated itself into everyone’s life, making it easier and more convenient than ever. A device that was once used for a simple phone call has evolved into an indispensable part of human life; the most significant source of entertainment, social connections and income generation.

Yes, we are talking about the “smartphone” serving as the mainstay of social interactions.

Consumer markets have opened up to the OEMs as they keep enticing users to regularly upgrade their lifestyle with the flashy new device versions. However, what is not considered is the impact on the planet of this wasteful practice, which creates heaps of e-waste from discarded devices and smartphones.

The huge amount of forgotten devices

It is estimated that around 3,000 double-decker buses full of e-waste are generated worldwide, with smartphones alone accounting for around 10% of the total. According to forecasts, this more than 50 million tons of electronic waste will increase to over 75 million tons by 2030. Asia contributes nearly half of e-waste, with our own India being the fifth largest producer.

On the other hand, due to the lack of organized methods for collecting e-waste, the recycling process is comparatively slower as only about 20% of devices are recycled. It’s time to raise awareness, reduce the impact of e-waste on the planet and encourage companies that are driving the transition to a circular economy. After all, we already have a technologically advanced level of processing used electronic devices and bringing them back onto the market as refurbished gadgets.

A circular economy is a well-developed framework that prioritizes the recycling and reuse of products as a sensible step to mitigate the impact of waste. Wider adoption will significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Include refurbished products

However, while the technology is there, the use of refurbished devices has not gained much momentum in our country. We focus primarily on purchasing products that come directly from the production facilities of the OEMs. The reasons for such consumer behavior are also based on ignorance, but are not always out of place.

Once a smartphone goes out of warranty and needs to be replaced, a user would sell it to a “used device dealer” who would attempt to bring it back to market ‘as is’. The new buyer inherits the expenses of the devices that prompted the sale in the first place. It will be a matter of luck how long the new owner can use the product before it dies.

This phenomenon is the reason why a consumer only chooses a used or “Purana” phone when it is urgently needed or as a second and optional device.

Refurbished smartphones, on the other hand, usually go through quality checks and a recovery process. Organizations that typically (or are supposed to) offer refurbished products vouch for the quality of their refurbish process by adding a trust factor to the used smartphone. For example, adding a 1-year warranty to the refurbished product would greatly mitigate the risk for the new buyer. Since all OEMs offer a similar level of warranty, the only difference between a new model and a refurbished model is the features introduced, which in most cases are barely used by a regular consumer.

After all, we also need a rethink in society. As it stands today, a buyer of used equipment, whether refurbished or not, is viewed as having a lower financial standing. Instead, a mature view might be to see the person as environmentally conscious and trying to save this planet from accumulating more waste. Only then can we see a surge in the use of refurbished products.

What’s next?

We must unite to encourage the use of refurbished devices, especially smartphones. Responsible use should balance the features of new versions against the harmful effects they cause on the environment. It will be good to find the leaders of business and social communities to promote this by example.

(The author is Mr. Soumitra Gupta, CEO, XtraCove and the views expressed in this article are his own.)

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