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Refurbished Electronics – Giving Technology a Second Life

By Dr. Robert L. Gordon | 02/02/2015 | 7:47 AM | Categories: Current Affairs

For most people in the U.S., the end of the life cycle for a piece of electronics happens once a person decides that it is time to upgrade to newer, better technology.  In most cases, this happens due to a perceived need to upgrade rather than the actual failure of the device, opening up the potential for electronics to serve a purpose beyond one user.

Refurbishing and repairing electronics has been taking more of a presence in the minds of consumers. As electronics have become more disposable the perception has become that they are more of a consumable rather than a durable. There are two potential directions for these old electronics:  being refurbished and resold in the domestic or international secondary market or being recycled.

In recent years, more companies are actively refurbishing electronics. These companies actively seek new customers to address growing demand in the secondary market.  Companies like Gazelle and uSell now offer a little money to encourage consumers to part with old electronics. 

Local companies have also  penetrated the secondary market. Recently, I have worked with Wireless Repair World in Pembroke Pines, Fla., a local business repairs phones and purchases used phones. Old phones are refurbished for the secondary market. They offer a better price than online companies and seem to be positioned for success in this realm, as long as they can establish good customer relations with the local community. 

There is also a market to reuse parts from some older cellphones.  M any consumers purchase a new phone prior to the end of life of their old phone. Apple has been buying back old phones from consumers in order to retrieve the useful parts. Samsung has been recycling and recovering parts from consumers since 2007.  Their STAR program allows for consumers to send electronics to Samsung for recycling.  In some cases, the materials recovered can be used in other applications.  As more parts are recovered, this allows for a value chain for refurbished goods.  Samsung and others sell refurbished goods at a lower price.

When a phone is either too old or it would cost more to recover the useful parts than the cost of the parts, there is always the final recycling solution.  According to an article on Motherboard by Ben Richmond, “In 100,000 cell phones, there is an estimated 2.4 kilograms of gold, 900 kilograms of copper, and 25 kilograms of silver. Depending on the market prices, that could be around $250,000 worth of scrap metal.”

This means that even old electronic technology can still have value in scrap.  The challenge is that each metal requires different processing in order to get it out of these phones and can amount to extensive labor costs.  However, the VTT Technical Research Center of Finland has developed a method to use fungus to recover these precious metals.   In the future, it will be very likely that instead of using chemicals, we will be using fungus as one of many means to help us recycle these devices. 



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About Dr. Robert Lee Gordon

Dr. Robert Lee Gordon

Dr. Robert Lee Gordon is program director of the Reverse Logistics department at American Public University. Dr. Gordon has over twenty-five years of professional experience in supply chain management and human resources. He holds a Doctorate of Management and Organizational Leadership and a Masters of Business Administration from the University of Phoenix, as well earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in History from UCLA. Dr. Gordon has spent more than 14 years teaching reverse logistics, transportation, project management, and human resources. He has published articles on reverse logistics; supply chain management; project management; human resources; education, and complexity. He has also published four books on Reverse Logistics Management; Complexity and Project Management; Virtual Project Management Organizations, and Successful Program Management..

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