Alchemy in Ireland fights e-waste by repurposing Apple products.

Alchemy in Ireland fights e-waste by repurposing Apple products.

The Rise of Refurbished Tech: A Sustainable Solution for Gadgets

E-Waste Daisy can disassemble up to 1.2 million phones each year. Credit: Apple

Many of us have become accustomed to getting the newest, flashiest versions of our favorite gadgets, leaving yesterday’s tech destined for the dustbin. However, this take-make-waste habit is both unsustainable and increasingly unpopular. In fact, research shows that the second-hand goods market is growing 20 times faster than retail as a whole and is expected to be worth €120 billion by 2025.

But how does the process of refurbishing and reselling used devices actually work? This is where Alchemy, an Irish early-stage company, comes in. Founded in 2017, Alchemy has developed a preparatory tech stack that streamlines the recovery, repair, and resale of used devices like phones and laptops. With just four employees and $2.5 million in pre-seed funding, Alchemy pitched Apple and won their trade-in business.

Apple’s trade-in program allows customers to hand in their used Apple devices and receive a discount on a new one or store credit. After the trade-in, Alchemy’s system takes the title from the consumer, ensuring data safety and handling the refurbishing process. It all starts with the specialized software that swiftly wipes all previous user data from the device and resets it to factory settings. Apple conducts regular audits of Alchemy to maintain the rigorous standards necessary for handling sensitive consumer data.

Once the devices reach Alchemy’s warehouses, they are inspected and graded using an algorithm called Jupiter, which runs a diagnostics test to determine any faults. If repairs are needed and it makes economic sense, Alchemy proceeds with the refurbishment. If a device is irreparably damaged, it will be recycled, potentially ending up in Daisy’s grasp. Daisy, Apple’s recycling robot, picks apart old devices and recovers materials for reuse. However, despite Apple’s efforts to improve recycling rates, many devices still end up in landfills.

iPhone 8 Recycling

While recycling plays a role, Alchemy focuses primarily on the refurb side of the supply chain. Less than 1% of the goods they handle go for recycling, highlighting their commitment to sustainability. Alchemy’s own facilities across the world have the capacity to refurbish up to 60,000 devices per month, with their newest plant in Miami leading the charge.

A crucial component of Alchemy’s tech stack is Apollo, an algorithm that determines the right price for each device. By analyzing past sales trends and making predictions about future prices, Apollo continually improves its accuracy as Alchemy sells more devices. Once the devices are refurbished and priced, they are sold on Alchemy’s own marketplace, Loop Mobile, as well as partnering with big retailers like Amazon, Walmart, and Back Market. Additionally, Alchemy operates the Callisto marketplace, serving around 1,600 second-hand resellers.

Apple products, particularly iPhones, hold their value better than any other tech brand. Alchemy still sells a staggering 15,000 iPhone 8 devices every single day, showcasing the demand for older generation phones that still get the job done at a significantly lower cost. This trend has revolutionized the refurb market, allowing Alchemy to achieve impressive growth. In 2021, Alchemy made $442 million in revenue, and they are targeting $700 million this year, with aspirations to reach the $1 billion mark by 2024.

All this growth stems from the surging demand for refurbished tech, driven by customers seeking sustainable and affordable products. Alchemy’s success lies in generating trust by making the buying experience for used products as close to buying new ones as possible. They achieve this by being fully transparent about the condition of the devices and offering a full one-year warranty, making trade-in a value-added experience. Apple recognized this commitment to trust-building, leading to their partnership with Alchemy.

Apple isn’t the only tech giant capitalizing on the secondary market. Google launched ChromeOS Flex, turning any old device into a sleek new Chromebook, while Nokia has a subscription service that encourages users to hold on to their phones for longer. These initiatives meet the shifting consumer demand for sustainable and affordable products, benefiting both businesses and customers alike.

The rise of refurbished tech is not only a win for consumers, who can enjoy quality tech at a reduced price, but also for the environment. By opting for refurbished devices, consumers help reduce e-waste, avoid the emission of CO2 into the atmosphere, and support the circular economy. With the continued growth and success of companies like Alchemy, the future of gadget sustainability looks promising.


This article was originally published on TNW.