Well-known smartphone manufacturers bring a new product to the market every year and long queues of people hoping to get hold of one of the coveted devices, form in front of the shops. There are naturally also people who use their own smartphone until it completely breaks down. However, that is not the normal pattern. A study performed by the Mafo market research institute in 2022 shows that Germans regularly buy a new phone every two or three years. A smartphone plays an enormous role in many people’s lives: whether for phone calls, taking photos or navigation – the device does it all. However, because we are so dependent on one device, we need to be sure that it will perform properly at all times. This means that many people are prepared to spend a little bit more money, as a study by Verivox showed in 2019.
IT devices are not only essential for private individuals. IT infrastructure plays a crucial role in companies too, because it is an integral part of their strategy and operating procedures. Devices such as laptops, computers, smartphones and tablets are now absolutely essential elements in everyday business life. People use them on a daily basis – and for a very wide range of different tasks. Companies repeatedly replace their IT equipment, even though it still works properly, because the devices have been used so much, because it has already reached its capacity limits or because compatibility problems emerge.
Things are not that different for private individuals. One might experience a sense of shock upon opening a drawer at home and finding it to be full of old mobile phones or other electronic equipment. Perhaps they decided that they no longer liked their old trusty companion or they simply replaced it with a new one. The devices have been lying in the drawer since then, gathering dust. But why do people not dispose of their old devices? Most of them cannot be disposed of simply placing them in the normal waste bin. That would be extremely dangerous because of their lithium ion battery, which is highly inflammable if it is damaged. It is, however, possible to turn in many devices free of charge at Germany’s local authority collection points. Despite this, many people often choose the ‘storing in the drawer’ option, in line with the motto ‘out of sight, out of mind’ – perhaps also because the security aspect has not been clearly defined; people are often unclear about what happens to the devices and the data. However, by failing to dispose of them, people miss some good opportunities – particularly those who want to do something for the environment – because IT recycling is sustainable.
Electronic waste now accounts for the lion’s share of mountains of rubbish. As much as 50 million tonnes of electronic waste are disposed of at rubbish tips around the world every year as a result of excessive purchases and the high production level of electronic devices – and the trend suggests that this figure will continue to increase. This is primarily due to our consumer society and the urge to always possess something new. On the other hand, the manufacturers are also responsible for this mistake. Consumers suspect that industries deliberately include what is referred to as “planned obsolescence” so that devices cease to work after a certain time, which means that consumers cannot use them for a long time. As a result, they are forced to purchase a new one, because having it repaired is often more expensive than buying a new device. This guarantees regular profits for the manufacturers, but it also means that many devices land on the rubbish tip, even after a short service life. There is a great danger here that they will not be properly recycled. If that is the case, valuable substances as well as hazardous substances such as lead can make their way into the soil and pose a risk to the environment – and confidential data can also be lost. However, these devices could be recycled in an environmentally friendly manner through IT remarketing.
IT remarketing means purchasing, refurbishing and remarketing or disposing of electronic devices such as smartphones, laptops etc. It is possible to give old devices a new life by refurbishing them. That is why IT remarketing is viewed as sustainable. Other terms that are often used for this are IT refurbishment, hardware remarketing or green IT.
Service companies have also recognised that it is not easy to dispose of old devices. They therefore offer their customers professional IT remarketing. The process starts with a project plan and consultancy services. This involves checking whether the IT hardware is suitable for remarketing. The IT devices are then purchased. Companies can choose between professional destruction or sustainable remarketing. Once the order has been placed, the service provider that has been commissioned with the task transports the old devices in special high-security vehicles. The correct form of transportation is crucial here to prevent any possible damage and also take data protection aspects into account.
Once the company has picked up the devices, they are checked: any existing data is deleted in line with the data protection regulations and the old devices are cleaned. This also involves removing any stickers, stock numbers or similar information, so that it is no longer possible to draw any conclusions about the previous owner. The process of refurbishment or destruction can then begin. In the case of refurbishment, the products are processed so that they can be reused or marketed. In the case of destruction, the products are broken down into their individual parts or shredded and fed back into the raw materials cycle in a sustainable way.
Data storage media and electronic devices contain a great deal of information. If private individuals or even companies decide to relinquish control over them (for destruction or refurbishing), they naturally want to know that the service company will maintain security standards when dealing with the personal or company-related data. It is possible to check service companies that are commissioned to perform these tasks by looking at their certificates. These prove that the processes are regularly supervised and audited by recognised bodies. Service companies should also regularly and consistently update their processes in line with the latest standards.
Once the operation has been completed, a deletion report confirms that the data has been erased in line with the data protection regulations. The service company should also be able to issue this.
Important certificates include the following:
It is sometimes only possible to purchase new devices by accepting significantly longer lead times because of the current shortage of raw materials and prolonged supply chain bottlenecks. Service companies therefore offer to sell refurbished devices after processing them. If companies or individuals are thinking about making a purchase, it is worthwhile considering refurbished old devices, because they are much cheaper. Technical and optical standards have to be met – after all, people want to be able to work professionally with an older device that has been refurbished. Service companies that offer these kinds of devices normally also provide a guarantee for their products.
However, purchasing refurbished old devices has not really taken off up to now. Only four percent of companies in Germany were using refurbished products in 2022 – and private individuals are also still cautious about the idea. However, the issue will probably become more prominent during the next few years because of the ongoing climate discussions – and because more and more companies are seeking to meet the goal of becoming climate-neutral. IT remarketing can play a role in meeting this goal as well.
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