May 21, 2024
Ireland’s Alchemy battles e-waste by giving Apple products a new life

Many of us have become accustomed to getting the newest, flashiest versions of our favourite gadgets, leaving yesterday’s tech destined for the dustbin. In 2022, the global economy produced 50 million tonnes of e-waste — equivalent to the weight of 5,000 Eiffel towers. 

This take-make-waste habit is unsustainable, and research shows, increasingly unpopular. The second-hand goods market is growing 20 times faster than retail as a whole and is expected to be worth €120bn by 2025

“Buying refurbished goods has got a huge tailwind at the moment,” James Murdock, Alchemy’s CMO, tells TNW. “More and more people want to do things that are both good for the environment and good for their wallets.”

Founded in 2017, Alchemy is an Irish early-stage company that has developed a preparatory tech stack that streamlines the recovery, repair, and resale of used devices like phones and laptops. Three years ago, with a team of four employees and just $2.5mn in pre-seed funding, Alchemy pitched Apple and won their trade-in business. 

Apple’s trade-in programme allows you to hand in your used Apple device (or multiple) and get a discount on a new one, or store credit. 

Once receiving that brand new iPhone or Macbook most of us will never pay the old one much thought ever again. But what actually happens after trade-in? That’s where Alchemy comes in, and they claim to be the fastest-growing circular tech company you’ve (probably) never heard of. 

The long road to resell

Apple’s trade-in programme has been running for 10 years now. The company accepts used iPhones, iPads, Macs, Apple Watches, and even Android phones. 

After you trade in your device it will, in most parts of the world, be sent to one of Alchemy’s 60 warehouses located throughout Europe, Asia, and the US. 

“When you trade in an Apple device it’s Alchemy’s system that takes the title from the consumer, it’s us that has the second-hand dealer licence, it’s us that receives it and ensures that it’s data safe,” says Murdock.

The first thing Alchemy does is use specialised software to swiftly wipe all previous user data from the device and reset it to factory settings. Because Alchemy handles highly sensitive consumer data they have to be extremely rigorous. Apple audits the firm every six months. “It’s a pretty serious business as you’d imagine,” says Murdock.  

After that, they inspect and grade each device through an algorithm called Jupiter, which automatically runs a diagnostics test to determine any faults. At this point they begin repairs, but only if it makes economic sense. 

If it’s an old iPhone 8 that’s smashed to pieces, it will get recycled. Here it might end up in the claws of Daisy, Apple’s recycling robot. Daisy picks apart old devices and recovers materials for reuse. However, while Apple has improved its recycling rates in recent years, a lot of old devices still end up in landfill.

an image of Apple's recycling robot, Daisy