Three ways to maximize device potential and minimize unnecessary e-scrap

Apple recently announced plans to extend the lifecycle of its mobile devices, namely its iPhone, from two years to three years.  As a mobile device refurbisher and recycler, I applaud this initiative as a step in the right direction of the industry goal of creating a sustainable electronics ecosystem. But it’s just one step on a path cluttered with roadblocks.

Creating an ecosystem of sustainable electronics requires the removal of several hurdles that e-recyclers are forced to confront on a daily basis. Some of which are insurmountable without assistance from legislators or cooperation from OEMs. Others can be overcome, but for most the challenge is too great and leaves e-recyclers frustrated to the point of hopelessness.

The first such challenge is kill switch legislation. Kill switches render devices useless and inoperable. While the intention of reducing device theft is positive, kill switch legislation now makes it nearly impossible to repair and refurbish otherwise good working devices. As a result, tens of millions of mobile devices that were never stolen or lost end up as e-scrap. Reforming the legislation to allow refurbishers and recyclers a way to deactivate or overcome the kill switch—when they have clear title to non-blacklisted devices, in order to refurbish the unit and return it to the market—helps putting an end to unnecessary e-waste.

Another huge challenge is the lack of available repair parts for repairable devices. OEMs limit the spare parts pipeline by imposing restrictions and limits to who can and can’t buy spare parts such as glass and housings.  This creates a logjam for refurbishers trying to put devices back into the market. In some instances, the delay and lack of availability of spare parts forces the devices to be scrapped rather than be refurbished.

Additionally, information on device repair and data erasure is not made available from the OEMs. They argue that the information is proprietary or that they need to control the quality of third party repairs. The repair information being sought is for devices that are in need of minor or cosmetic repairs. Otherwise they would end up as e-waste.  Instead, refurbishers turn to third party sources such as iFixit, which are a tremendous value to mobile device refurbishers and recyclers. I understand their position, but they need to recognize the greater good created by the exchange of information, or at least contributing to the conversation in a productive manner.  The third party repair infrastructure is going to continue to grow with or without their participation.  In general, the quality and reliability of these repairs would be enhanced, not diminished with OEM participation.

Legitimate Responsible Recycling-certified (R2) processors are not seeking information to destroy business opportunities for the OEMs. They are seeking the repair and erasure information to not destroy the planet. The ultimate goal is protecting the planet, and if that is a shared goal, then we should all work together.