Asset Refurbishment: A Second Life for Discarded Electronics

By Veena Clay November 9, 2014

Have you ever wondered how to get the best value out of your end-of-life electronic assets? Asset refurbishment just might be the answer. It is a way to prepare discarded electronics for future resale. Refurbishing your old or outdated electronic device may not seem profitable at first, but the refurbished electronics industry has a busy, growing market behind it, and many businesses and nonprofits are sharing in the success.

Restoring electronics to their former good condition is a practice that has been around for years. With recycling centers cropping up in large numbers across the country, it is easy to pursue refurbishment as an additional service. Today, many recycling centers receive special certification to refurbish electronics and offer them for sale or reuse for businesses or individuals looking to retain the value of their discarded assets.

Refurbishing e-waste: Why it is a good idea

Currently, the U.S. is facing an e-waste crisis of enormous proportions. Part of the problem is that the manufacturing and production of electronic devices such as tablets, desktops, laptops and mobile phones is increasing at a rapid clip to keep pace with the ongoing demand for newer, more powerful devices. As new devices and updated products hit the market, many electronics are discarded — some in near-perfect condition.

The condition of a discarded device is extremely important. It is this factor that determines whether the device can be recycled or refurbished, and in many cases refurbishment is a good idea. According to United Nations estimates, recycling requires 20 times more energy than reuse and refurbishment. Further, even though the resale value of a refurbished device drops significantly, the market for refurbished goods continues to grow as customers are lured in by discounted prices from major electronics carriers.

One other factor that makes refurbishment a good idea is government regulations. As more countries and states begin to require and mandate recycling and responsible manufacturing, electronics carriers, businesses and consumers are forced to begin properly disposing electronics using certified and responsible recycling centers. Many of these centers include refurbishment as part of their services offered (depending on the condition of the devices collected).

What types of electronic devices are suitable for refurbishment?

Almost any electronic device that does not have damage to key components can be repaired for reuse, and most can also be refurbished. Common refurbishable devices are mobile phones, computers and laptops and tablets.

Refurbished mobile phones are increasingly common among consumers. Major mobile phone service providers such as BOOST and T-Mobile offer refurbished phones for sale through their online retail stores. Often these phones are sold at a discount price, offering the customer significant savings.

Refurbished laptops and computers are popular among schools and nonprofit organizations that often build educational or computer assistance programs around refurbished devices at a fraction of the cost of new devices. For instance, a teacher in California reused outdated computers sourced from local businesses to build a computer literacy program for underprivileged youth. Using Linux as the refurbished computers’ operating system made the project completely free.

Steps in the refurbishment process

The refurbishment process varies from center to center, but involves a few basic steps relevant to each. First, the device must be ticketed and inspected to determine whether it is suitable for refurbishment. In many cases, the devices collected for recycling are fully intact and only need minor updates to be suitable for resale or reuse. Sometimes, though, the core components of a device are too damaged or worn for immediate reuse. In these instances, the item can either be repaired or sent for recycling.

The next basic step in the refurbishment process is to clear the device of all previous data. Depending on the recycling center, this may be accomplished with data-wiping software, but no matter what, this step is an extremely important one. In fact, removing sensitive data is a huge issue for businesses and organizations regulated by the federal or state government to manage sensitive data properly.

After the device is clear of all sensitive data, it can then be equipped with a new operating system. This usually requires a license from Microsoft or Apple or others before installation of the new software can begin. Some refurbishers also use Linux software to bring a refurbished device back online. Responsible recyclers and refurbishers also take precautions with trademark laws and licensing regulations to ensure they are not exposed to infringement liability.

Certifications and cautions

The recycling center you choose to assist in refurbishing your electronics is extremely important. You’ll want a reliable recycler that is in good standing with the proper certifications necessary for establishing a quality refurbishment process. For instance, Microsoft requires licensing and certification before its operating systems can be placed on refurbished hardware. Without these requirements, the recycler could be held liable for copyright or other legal issues.

Also, be sure that the recycler has an instrument in place that will help with releasing you and your company from liability concerns during the refurbishment process. Many recyclers have documents in place that will release the owner of the devices from future liability. This may seem like an unnecessary precaution — until something goes wrong with the refurbishment of your devices that leaves your business vulnerable to lawsuits or legal action.

Reselling and reusing refurbished electronics

Once the device is entirely refurbished, it is now ready for resale or reuse. Check with your recycling center to determine the options here. Some centers have agreements in place with retailers or online stores for the sale of refurbished electronics. Others have partnered with schools or local nonprofits so that refurbished electronics can be used for educational or community service needs. Still others have special buyback options for maximizing the value of your discarded assets.

E-waste refurbishment is here to stay

With the current movement of the IT industry toward cloud computing and the increased reliance on tablets and mobile devices in the workplace and in schools, it is likely that refurbishment is here to stay. Refurbishing computers and laptops and even mobile phones will continue to increase as these devices enter the e-waste stream in large volumes and countries around the world continue to require proper disposal.