Green tech

Israeli-made vending machine offers easy sale, trade and recycling of used phones

RE-Refurbished Smartphones Revolution provides a one-stop shop to reduce e-waste, production energy, natural resource depletion and mining-related damage

Sue Surkes

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter

Smartphone waste. (MikroLogika, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons)
Smartphone waste. (MikroLogika, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons)

Many people have collections of old, disused smartphones at home because they don’t know what to do with them.

Now, an Israeli company has come up with a solution: a vending machine that allows consumers to recycle, sell or upgrade to a better — refurbished — model. It aims to save on the energy, natural resources and mining-related environmental damage associated with producing smartphones and to reduce end-use electronic waste.

RE-Refurbished Smartphones Revolution, founded in 2015, provides a one-stop-shop machine that is currently available at three stores in Tel Aviv and 14 in Europe — in Finland, Germany and Spain.

On Wednesday, the Israeli-made vending machine was on show at the Climate Solutions conference and festival organized by Start Up Nation Central, the KKL-JNF Jewish National Fund, and JNF Canada at central Israel’s Hulda Forest.

The machine is easy to use.

Enter the phone’s serial number so that the system can check it belongs to you, hasn’t been stolen and has been fully paid for. After ticking a few boxes, you put your phone on the sensor pad, where an artificial intelligence system checks that the claims you have made about your phone are correct, and gives you a price.

Notably, that figure can be significantly lower — half the price and sometimes less — than what the phone might fetch on the secondhand market. But it is certainly convenient.

This reporter’s iPhone 12 was valued at NIS 1,090 ($308.50). For an additional NIS 2,010 ($600), it could have been traded for a good-as-new refurbished, fully tested and unlocked 128 GB iPhone 12 Pro Max with a 12-month warranty.

A RE-Refubished Smartphone Revolution automat displayed at the Climate Solutions conference and festival at the Hulda Forest, central Israel, on October 26, 2022. From left: Chief Marketing Officer Carmit Lev Solach, CEO Itzik Chayun, Development Manager Mali Hadar, and Supply Chain Manager Ido Maor. (Sue Surkes/Times of Israel)

According to the Zap price comparison site (in Hebrew), a new model of this iPhone currently costs anywhere from NIS 3,805 ($1,077) to NIS 4,689 ($1,327).

The options are to trade in a phone for a better model — in which case a flap opens, gulps down the phone and replaces it with an upgrade — or to sell it, in which case the automat swallows the phone and pays for it right away by bank transfer, PayPal, or — if the customer chooses — a gift card.

All phones “ingested” by the machine are sent to a laboratory where the content is “forensically wiped,” in line with the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, according to Mali Hadar, who is in charge of development.

Phones that are in good condition are checked and offered for resale.

If repairs are needed, they are sold to a wholesaler who refurbishes them.

If they are too old or broken to be worth anything, they are sold for recycling, either to an Israeli metals and electronics recycling company, Gaia, or to a recycling company in Poland.

Should the customer have regrets, RE will take refurbished phones back within 14 days and refund the money with “no questions asked,” according to the firm’s website.

Hadar said that while other companies have previously developed machines that accept old cellphones for recycling, RE is the first to incorporate buying and selling them as well.

The Tel Aviv machines can be found at am:pm stores on Nordau and Allenby streets, and at Shalom Meir Tower (Kol Bo Shalom) on Herzl Street.

An estimated 100 to 200 million phones are discarded worldwide every year, according to the company, and just one in ten are recycled. For each million smartphones that are recycled, 34 kilograms (75 pounds) of gold could be produced, along with 350 kg (772 pounds) of silver, 15 kg (33 pounds) of palladium, and 16,000 kg (35,274 pounds) of copper.

Smartphones are made out of 62 different metals which have to be mined.

According to UNICEF, more than 40,000 children work in mines that extract cobalt — an essential ingredient of the batteries in mobile phones and other electronic appliances.

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