WE.3.C || Benefits of Retaining Materials and Their Quality in a Circular Economy – Case studies

Pequeño Leclerc, Felipe; Granato, Danilo; Wiche, Pia

A complete life cycle analysis (LCA) on a refurbished high-end smartphone in Chile is developed to find out its environmental impacts and evaluate potential environmental advantages of this product compared to a new one and a modular alternative. The life cycle of the refurbished smartphone is conducted with closed loop (cut-off) logic. Thus, the environmental burden of the phone production is not considered for the second use, but the transport of the unused phone, production and packaging of spare parts, use, and disposal are included. The functional unit is the 3-year daily use of the smartphone with a cradle to grave scope. OpenLCA 1.10 with ReCiPe 2016 (H) LCIA method and ecoinvent 2.2 database were used. The results show the global warming potential (GWP) of the refurbished smartphone is 71% lower than the GWP of the new version of the same model (16 versus 51 kg CO2 eq). Comparing with a modular phone (using CML impact method) shows that the refurbished phone has 60% lower impacts in climate change and fossil depletion potential. The lower impacts of the refurbished alternative are due to the reutilization of the device, which avoids most impacts of the production phase. Comparing other impact categories with the modular phone, the refurbished version varies between 12% reduction to 23% increase in abiotic depletion potential, human toxicity and terrestrial ecotoxicity. However, no conclusion can be drawn as it is not possible to assess the significance of these differences due the lack of uncertainty analysis for the modular phone. In conclusion, avoiding extraction and production of material by refurbishing can reduce environmental impacts, even over modular alternatives. However, to be able to appropriately compare different circular models, it is imperative to calculate and publish uncertainty of LCA results.