What is the carbon footprint of a refurbished phone?

Our addiction to smartphones is bad for the environment. But what exactly is the carbon footprint of a refurbished phone?

Carbon Footprint 👣



July 27, 2022


Table of contents

The refurbished market is booming.

More than a communication tool, smartphones now play the role of GPS, camera, Internet browser or music player ... Multiple functions synonymous with increased use, but also synonymous with bringing a faster end of life to the device. 😖

Tired of spending fortunes on a new phone, many now prefer to opt for reuse. An economic gesture, but also ecological! Although they are not constantly plugged into the mains, these high-tech mobile terminals have an impact on the environment. And not a small one.  

In total, digital technology accounts for 2.5% of France's carbon footprint and 3.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions. 

A figure that should double by 2025, given our dependence on smartphones. So: how can you reduce the environmental impact of your phone? Why should you opt for refurbished ones? 

We tell you everything in this article. 👋



🧐 What is a refurbished phone?

 Driven by advertising and the pace at which new, better models are released, consumers change their devices on average every two years. Which is far too short! ❌

 👉 Since 2007, more than 10 billion smartphones have been sold worldwide. 

 In this context, the refurbishment of these devices obviously aims to meet this overconsumption. But what exactly is a refurbished smartphone? 📱

 A refurbished phone is an electronic device that has already been used, but still works well enough not to be thrown in the trash. By reconditioning it, the idea is therefore to offer it a second life. Of course, the device concerned will then be put on sale at a lower cost.

 💡 Good to know: the refurbished market concerns smartphones, but also computers, game consoles, washing machines and even vacuum cleaners.



🔎 What is the environmental footprint of a refurbished smartphone compared to a new one?

In France, smartphones are responsible for 60-90% of the environmental impact of digital. 

But what is their impact over their entire life cycle?


Manufacturing 🛠

Manufacturing is undoubtedly the most polluting and energy-consuming stage of a phone's entire life cycle. 

Thus, nearly three quarters of a smartphone's carbon impact is caused by its manufacturing. 😱

There are several reasons for this: did you know, for example, that a phone travels around the planet four times before it reaches your hands? In detail: 

  • the design usually takes place in the United States;
  • extraction and processing of raw materials are both done in South East Asia, Australia, Central Africa or South America;
  • manufacturing of the main components takes place in Europe, Asia and the United States;
  • assembly is carried out in Southeast Asia;
  • the devices are then distributed around the world, usually by air.


Moreover, the manufacture of a phone is not done without generating numerous social and health impacts. ⚔️ 

Very often - unfortunately - the working conditions in which the manufacture of phones takes place are deplorable. As an illustration, no less than 40,000 children are said to work in cobalt and coltan mines.

The icing on the cake? The extraction of tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold sometimes leads to armed conflicts. This is why they are referred to as "blood minerals".

👉 On a slightly more positive note, know that opting for a refurbished equipment avoids the extraction of 82 kg of raw materials and the emission of 25 kg of greenhouse gasses (GHG) per year (that is 87% less than a new one).


The use 🤳

21% of the carbon impact of electronic equipment is caused by its use. Granted, it is less than that related to the production phase. For all that, it does not become negligible.

👉 Now, extending the life of a phone for two more years can improve the environmental balance by 50%.  


End of life 🚮

No less than 70 materials are needed to make a phone. 💥 

In detail:

  • 10 to 20% glass and ceramics ;
  • 40 to 60% metals;
  • 30 to 50% plastics and synthetic materials.


Used in small quantities, with complex alloys, these famous materials are particularly difficult to recycle completely. 

What's worse: only 15% of telephone equipment is collected for recycling. ♻️

👋 Every year, 20 million tons of waste are generated by digital technology over the entire life cycle of our devices. 



👍 What are the benefits of a refurbished phone?


Reducing its environmental impact 📉

As we have seen: buying a phone is not without consequences on the environment and society. 

In fact, reusing a phone allows you to:

  • avoid the extraction of new resources to manufacture a new device ;
  • reduce the production of waste;
  • reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.


Users can also change their usage by primarily using Wifi instead of activating data, downloading only the necessary apps, or regularly updating.

✅ Ultimately, refurbished smartphones are up to eight times more green than new ones. When making your next purchase, don't hesitate to question your needs before succumbing to the latest model!


Participate in the circular economy 🔄

Offering a second life to a device is possible thanks to:

  • repairability; 
  • the accessibility of spare parts;
  • better maintenance; 
  • recycling. 


On average, a refurbished smartphone has an environmental impact two to four times lower than the production of a new device. And that's taking into account the change of the screen, the battery and the addition of new equipment. 📲

Thus, anyone who wishes to part with their device can sell it or bring it back to a second-hand store, to a re-use structure (refab and recycling centers), or even simply giving it to their friends and family.



Owning a high-performance device 💯

Many consumers wouldn't dare to buy second hand, for fear of getting ripped off. 

However, ADEME reassures consumers: a refurbished phone always undergoes several stages of verification. 

Thus, once collected, the smartphone is:

  • reset, in order to permanently delete the data of the previous owner ; 
  • unlocked, in order to work with any operator;
  • cleaned ;
  • tested;
  • repaired - including the replacement of failed components with new ones;
  • checked;
  • repackaged;
  • resold.


👋 Under the legal warranty of conformity, a reconditioned device is guaranteed for one year after purchase.

Save money 💰

Beyond making a gesture for the environment, buying reconditioned allows you to save money. 

Indeed, this type of device is sold up to 75% cheaper than a new one. Even if - obviously - the rate also depends on the condition of said device (scratches, marks, etc.). 🤑

A refurbished phone can be purchased directly from the manufacturer, in supermarkets or on marketplaces like Backmarket.


👀 What about digital technology in your company?

Do you want to do something for the environment too? Reduce the emissions linked to your company's activity without further delay, by carrying out your 100% personalized carbon assessment! 


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