5 challenges to beat the reuse of previous digital units

Who says the return of beautiful days, says spring cleaning: for some a therapeutic exercise, for others a real job, emptying the closet is also an opportunity to give a second life to old items or clothes that you no longer use. . And with good reason, the market for second-hand products is becoming more and more attractive to the French: searches for “second-hand” quadrupled between 2020 and 2021, and those for “repaired” doubled.

But what about a drawer full of old electronics: what to do with our old phones, computers and MP3 players? The question is far from trivial. According to ADEME, nearly 50 million phones sleep in drawers, while two-thirds of them are still working. How can this paradox be explained between, on the one hand, the growing public interest in recycling and, on the other hand, the tendency for households to “hibernate” their old electronic products?

In addition to the obligation of manufacturers to maximize device life or to offer more responsible new products – using recycled materials in new models, for example – the future of recycling electronic products will depend on the development of better technologies for extracting materials from discarded materials. products. But this is not the only challenge in creating efficient recycling systems. In the “Electronics Hibernation” study, users list five barriers to recycling electronic devices, which allows us to outline ways to overcome them.

1. Barrier of consciousness
Consumers know very little about the options available to them, even if some are readily available. While you don’t have to be a film or literature expert to choose and use a streaming service or bookstore, electronics recycling services are far from the same visibility, even when offered by big brands. And if a quick search on the Internet yields many results, consumers can quickly feel lost between different eligible devices, different costs and the reliability of different existing services.

2. Value barrier
In the mind of the consumer, an old laptop that still works has a certain value. However, this is often below expectations and this disappointment is not very motivating to replace or recycle devices. Others give their devices sentimental value, even if they are no longer used – this is called “nostalgia for the device”: a laptop used during studies or an old CD player reminiscent of your youth, for example. Another example is consumers who see their old device as a backup solution in case they lose or damage their newer model. All of this gives these facilities a value that can, paradoxically, make recycling look like waste.

3. Data barrier
Another obstacle: the complexity of the process of transferring all photos, videos and personal documents to a new device, a phenomenon that only increases over time. The older the device, the harder it becomes to find the right cables, connect them properly, or even remember how to use them. Professionals offer these services, but their price can be an obstacle. And since there’s usually no rush to recover data that isn’t needed right away, this task is often delayed and becomes more difficult as time goes on.

4. Security barrier
While they may not always have to transfer their data, most users want to at least securely delete it before donating or recycling their device. This is a technical process that can take place differently depending on the device. If there are resources to do it yourself, it takes time and the effort required can seem daunting for an operation whose priority is perceived as low.

5. Barrier to benefits
In this case, users find recycling opportunities, but they are not practical enough for them: recycling centers too far, collection schedules that do not fit into a tight schedule … So many obstacles that can discourage.

There are several ways to smooth out these friction points :

Clearer and more visible awareness-raising messages. Communication campaigns can play a key role in raising consumer awareness of the recycling opportunities available to them. Because there is no lack of return or reuse options: the success of Back Market comes naturally to refurbished products, and we can mention the option of free disposal of old devices with operators or distributors, such as Fnac Darty and Boulanger – a system that meets legal requirements – restoration of structures or recycling centers, or even solidarity collections of associations such as Emmaüs or Les Ateliers du Bocage. The challenge is to make that known.

Businesses need to be able to display all of their recycling services, both in their physical storefronts and online in search results. While omnichanal is on everyone’s lips in retail, the same logic of hybrid travel is found in the recovery service: an online request for local service is often a prerequisite for visiting the store. Therefore, the promotion of recycling services on the web should not be neglected. And it is by simplifying research efforts that consumers who are increasingly concerned about the company’s environment will be able to stand out in the long run.

Financial or social incentives for recycling. Consumers still value their unused devices. Communications that emphasize the social benefits of recycling will appeal more to the general public than to characterize old devices as “e-waste”. Financial incentives can also spur action, such as some manufacturers offering vouchers in exchange for an old device.

Ensuring rapid reuse and recycling of devices is a key area of ​​focus for creating a more circular and sustainable electronics industry. If the whole sector needs to continue to innovate for more sustainable new product design, we will also need to work to remove blockages for consumers, reduce actual or perceived barriers to action and thus allow increased circulation of unused electronics.


Raphael GoumainMarketing Director, Google

Expert opinions are published under the full responsibility of their authors and do not engage the editorial board in any way.

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