Back to school: R2 Certified refurbished computers save money and resources

CC BY 2.0 Luke Wroblewski

Instead of buying a new computer or mobile device for your kids going back to school, consider purchasing a certified refurbished one.

While the pull to buy the latest and greatest device for yourself or your children may be strong, a far better choice, both for your wallet and the environment, might be to purchase an older model that's been refurbished, which can save you money and be a better use of resources.

The market for used previously owned electronics is quite large, and that may be good for consumers in some aspects, as there is a lot of choice, it can also be quite the minefield to navigate, because not only is there a big difference between a used device and a refurbished one, there is also quite a big gray area when it comes to the quality of the refurbishing. A used device sold directly by the original owner to another owner comes with no guarantees of any kind, and any assurances given by the seller that the device works great and has been well taken care of have to be taken with a grain of salt - after all, who's going to be able to sell you a gadget after telling you that it's basically been rode hard and put away wet?

One way to make sure you're buying a refurbished computer or mobile device that will work well and last long enough to pay for itself is to look for one that has been refurbished following the guidelines of the R2 Standard of Sustainable Electronics Recycling International (SERI). Computers and mobile devices that have gone through this standardized process are labeled as “R2 Ready for Reuse,” which means that they have been tested and refurbished by a certified company, and have had a fully licensed operating system installed on them. In order to retain this R2 certification, these companies must undergo annual inspections to verify that their work adheres to "the highest industry standards for testing, repair, and data security."

"Many businesses routinely replace their computers every two to three years, but the computer hardware is actually built to last much longer. A refurbished computer that has been tested and updated with new licensed software can be expected to be reliable for a number of years. It's great that consumers and business owners can have access to this quality technology without the high price tag of a new device." - Patty Osterberg, education and outreach director for SERI

According to SERI, some 2.4 billion computers, tablets, and other mobile devices were sold worldwide last year, all of which require a variety of precious metals and other resources to manufacture, and by extending the useful life of electronics through certified refurbishing processes, it can help reduce some of the environmental and social degradation associated with electronics manufacturing. Certified R2 refurbishers have a product return policy (which individual sellers of used electronics don't offer), and some of them offer warranties for up to a year after purchase, so you're not stuck with a lemon.

To find a refurbisher that meets the R2 standards, and that sells direct to consumers, a list of companies selling R2 refurbished desktops and laptops is available on the SERI site, as well as a listing of R2 recyclers that can responsibly recycle your old electronics.

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