Refurbishment of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) is an important step in the fulfilment of the European waste hierarchy and an important component of the circular economy. WEEE refurbishment can conserve valuable resources and reduce environmental impact over the lifecycle of a product. In Germany as well as in the European Union, the majority of separately collected WEEE is recycled. In the period from 2018 to 2021, only 1.5 % on average and below was prepared for reuse (including refurbishment) in Germany and the European Union [1;6]. There is a high potential for improvement.
The refurbishment process involves several steps. First, WEEE is collected and subjected to a selection process. During this process, the equipment is checked for functionality and the components to be replaced are identified. In the next step, the defective or obsolete components are replaced, and the device is restored to a functional state .
WEEE can either be refurbished by third parties under a limited warranty, directly by the original equipment manufacturer (OEM), or by selected third parties as certified pre-owned equipment . To assess the reusability of WEEE, various factors play a key role. How old is the device and what is its condition? Is the equipment complete or are important parts missing, such as a power cord? In the case of defective mobile devices, for example, it is necessary to look at the hardware components on the one hand and check the status of the operating system and the status of security updates on the other. In addition, the devices are often password-protected which is a security barrier that must be bypassed. There is equally the question of data protection compliance, as personal data must be deleted using approved software without the permission of the last owner.
Further to the technical aspects, the cost factors are not negligible either. In refurbishment, these include a functional test, test of device safety (electrical/mechanical), completion, repair, data deletion and warranty. Other costs might arise from transportation, electrical power required, procurement of new components, disposal of old components, and labour costs. Looking at the long list of possible expenses, some experts believe that only notebooks and tablets in good condition could be economically refurbished in social enterprises [2;5].
Now, if the condition of the devices is medium to poor and if the devices are older, the profit of the companies logically decreases. Therefore, for independent companies, refurbishment is hardly economical as it stands now. For smartphones, tablets and notebooks from premium brands, however, the price margins are greater . This is mainly due to their initial high selling price and therefore higher reselling price when refurbished.
On a positive note, possibilities already exist for cost reduction. Such as sorting out well-maintained devices before they enter recycling centres, incorporating used spare parts, or limiting the variety of models to be refurbished .
Is there a market for refurbished products?
In general, we can confidently say that refurbishment is less labour-intensive than remanufacturing and repairing, because the condition of the original equipment is usually better. Energy consumption is also generally lower for refurbishment and repair than for remanufacturing and recycling. However, the products that have gone through the refurbishment process are not state of the art and therefore often do not have the latest functions and design which drives a great part of the sales. In some cases, this leads to an acceptance problem and a barrier to purchase for the consumer . So, the headlining question can be answered with “Yes, under certain circumstances and there is still a long way to go for both remanufacturers, refurbishers and consumers.”
How could CE-RISE support this transition?
The CE-RISE information system could improve the situation for many stakeholders along the lifecycle of EEE-products especially for stakeholders on the end of the products lifecycle. Refurbishers, repair shops, or remanufacturers would be able to access information about the products stored in the product passport like exploded-view drawings, spare part lists, or recommendations for the proper separation and collection of products and therefore improve the number of products put back into the market.
- Eurostat. (2023). Elektro- und Elektronikgeräte-Abfall (WEEE) nach Abfallbewirtschaftungsmaßnahmen—Offener Anwendungsbereich, 6 Produktkategorien (ab 2018). Abgerufen 13. August 2023, von https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/databrowser/view/ENV_WASELEEOS__custom_7041948/default/table?lang=de
- Hieronymi, K. (2022). Zur Ökonomie der Wiederverwendung von Elektronik-Altgeräten. MÜLL und ABFALL, (12), 7. doi: 10.37307/j.1863-9763.2022.12.07
- King, A. M., Burgess, S. C., Ijomah, W., & McMahon, C. A. (2006). Reducing waste: Repair, recondition, remanufacture or recycle? Sustainable Development, 14(4), 257–267. doi: 10.1002/sd.271
- Morgan, T. P. (2021). IT Jungle: Tech Data’s Take On Certified Pre-Owned IT Gear. Abgerufen 2. August 2023, von IT Jungle website: https://www.itjungle.com/2021/02/22/tech-datas-take-on-certified-pre-owned-power-systems-iron/
- Pini, M., Lolli, F., Balugani, E., Gamberini, R., Neri, P., Rimini, B., & Ferrari, A. M. (2019). Preparation for reuse activity of waste electrical and electronic equipment: Environmental performance, cost externality and job creation. Journal of Cleaner Production, 222, 77–89. doi: 10.1016/j.jclepro.2019.03.004
- Umweltbundesamt. (2022). Elektro- und Elektronikaltgeräte [Text]. Abgerufen 31. Juli 2023, von Umweltbundesamt website: https://www.umweltbundesamt.de/daten/ressourcen-abfall/verwertung-entsorgung-ausgewaehlter-abfallarten/elektro-elektronikaltgeraete