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New studies highlight risks of flame retardants


According to a recent Harvard study, e-scrap workers still have rests of toxic flame retardants on their hands even after wiping them multiple times. The study, conducted at an unnamed e-scrap facility in the US, recommends a stronger focus on refurbishing.

According to one of the Harvard scientists involved in the project, Diana Ceballos, the findings provide “good motivation for firms to reduce shredding as much as possible”. Ceballos recommends a stronger “focus on the great refurbishing efforts happening nationwide”, including all efforts to “minimize shredding of plastics and other materials that are known to contain flame retardants.”

After shredding, the toxic e-waste plastics are recycled into other products. This means the risk of consumers being exposed to them again. And this is very much a reality, according to a recent study conducted at the the university in Plymouth, UK. Associate professor Dr. Andrew Turner says the study clearly indicates that recycled plastic from e-waste introduces harmful chemicals into household products. One of the reasons is that the strict regulations for recycling of e-waste are often not respected - e-waste is labelled as ‘repairable’ or ‘reusable’ instead of ‘hazardous waste’. This means scrapping of electronic products needs to develop. It also means that all opportunities to repair, reuse and remanufacture constitutes a more environmental alternative.

He’s saving laptops from the scrapyard


Jonas Vilander at Swedish refurb company Inrego has a pretty special job: restoring laptops classified as scrap and giving them an extra life.

Jonas is part of a group of four IT technicians at Inrego with one single task - breathing life into laptops that by most common standards are fit only for one thing: the eternal sleep. These computers usually have a combination of serious issues, like cracked screen, faulty motherboard, missing RAM etcetera. But Jonas and his colleagues restore up to half of all them.

- The other scrapped laptops provide us with functional replacement parts. We’re also stripping them of other spare parts that will come in handy in other refurbishing projects. After that, there’s really not much left to scrap.

After having resurrected, the laptops are put to the market. Some of them are old and cheap, others are sold for a good 1000 euro. Jonas and his colleagues’ work at the “scraptop team” is good not only for the environment. It’s actually profitable.

Over the years, Jonas Vilander has developed an extensive knowledge in which models are worth tinkering with and which are better left alone.

- We rarely see potential in a non-functional Apple computer. They are just not built to be refurbished. My favourites are some of the HP Probook models: like the 820, 850, 640 and 650. Their hard disc is attached with only four screws and replacing RAM is also very simple. I think they were designed with refurbishing in mind. I also like Dell 7240.

After a few years in Inrego’s “scraptop team”, this is Jonas advice to the manufacturers:

- Go for less number of models. Put a lot of effort in making them really easy to take apart and repair. Build your brand on sustainability and develop a more profitable aftermarket for original spare parts.

Small European step towards repairability


New EU measures make manufacturers obliged to make appliances more easily repairable and longer-lasting. This is the result of a decision by European environment ministries. The measures will enter into force from April 2021 onwards. The rules affect everyday products like lighting, washing machines and fridges.

“The agreement is a step in the right direction. Enabling consumers to repair and reuse all electronic products is just common sense”, says Chloe Fayole at the environmental organisation ECOS.

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