Shock of Renew: why you shouldn't use Apple's new recycling service (yet)

We traded in our old iThing for vouchers, and it was a lot more trouble than it was worth...

Apple Renew

If you’re anything like us, your drawers are fit to bursting with old gadgets. If any of them are made by Apple, and you don’t want to sell them and risk your data falling into the wrong hands, you could exchange them for credit using Apple Renew.

Our five-year- old iMac had started coughing and spluttering, so we decided to trade it for some credit at the bank of Apple. Here’s how we got on.

What is Apple Renew?

Apple Renew

It’s a programme that lets you trade in old Apple products in exchange for vouchers. Everyone wins: Apple recycles the product, and you get money off your next purchase.

The downside? You can only spend the vouchers with Apple. You’ll also get a lot less than you would by selling it: our 2011 iMac was valued at £150, while on eBay it would fetch around £400. Our iPhone 4, meanwhile, was valued by Apple at the princely sum of £0. Bargain.

You can trade in your iPad (any model from iPad 2 on), iPhone (4 or newer), and iMac or MacBook (from 2007 or newer). Apple takes other brand smartphones and PCs, but won’t give you anything in return, so you’ll have to make do with that warm do-gooder feeling that comes from recycling. Plus you can exchange your old iPod in-store and get £10 off a new one. But no vouchers, sadly.

The programme launched in March. But as we’ll see, there are still plenty of kinks that need ironing out.

How does it work?

Apple Renew

Your first step is to head here, select a category of device and enter your IMEI number/serial number (you’ll find this in Settings>General>About on an iPhone, or in the ‘About This Mac’ section in the Apple Menu on a Mac). Enter more details, like the device’s condition, and you’ll be given a value.

If you’re happy with that, click 'Accept'.

Now it’s time to hand over your device. But before you do, make sure you’ve wiped your data from it, and backed up anything you want to keep. You can find out how to do this here for an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch, and here for a Mac.

So I just take my iThing to the Apple Store?

Apple Renew

Whoa, not so fast. We did that and regretted it.

AppleCare Telephone Support told us to take our iMac to an Apple Store and they’d handle the rest – we didn’t even need to book an appointment, they said. So we manhandled it into an Uber and headed to the Apple Store in London’s Covent Garden, where we were told politely but firmly that they don’t take desktop computers in-store, only mobile devices and laptops.

Cue a disgruntled Uber ride home.

Here's the full lowdown: Apple’s Renew program allows you to recycle all Apple and non-Apple products both online and in stores, including smartphones, batteries, tablets and computers. You'll get Apple Credit for more modern devices such as an iPad 2 or newer, iPhone 4 or newer, a MacBook Pro, MacBook Air or MacBook, and some non-iOS smartphones. You can also get credit for an iMac from 2007 or newer, but this has to be done online rather than in-store to in order to qualify for the credit.

If you do take the online route, Brightstar 20:20 – the company that handles Apple’s Renew programme – will send you the correct packaging, though the first box we received was only big enough for an iPhone, not our 21.5-inch iMac. The customer service rep we phoned admitted the programme had been having “some teething issues”, and arranged for a bigger box to be sent out. Three working days later it arrived, and we packaged it up, attached the enclosed label and lugged it to the post office. (Then two days later, another iMac-sized box arrived, for some reason. Cue a disgruntled trip to the recycling.)

Brightstar pays the postage. But if you want the safety net of special delivery – which we’d advise – you’ll have to pay extra. This is £7.50 for a phone-sized package, or £26.60 for an iMac.

Then what happens?

Apple Renew

Brightstar tests your device to make sure it’s working as you said. It then gives you a value, which in our case was £35 less than the quoted value. Why? Good question. The F8 key had come loose from the keyboard, but apart from that the iMac was in perfect working order. Brightstar’s email didn’t shed any light on the matter – the “Reasons for change” box was left blank.

We called to get to the bottom of it. They said they’d call us back, but didn’t. Then later that afternoon we were emailed two Apple Store Gift Cards: one for £115, and one for the £35 shortfall. Progress of sorts.

You can use the cards in a physical Apple Store or the Apple Store Online, but not on the iTunes Store, App Store, or any other download store.

If you don’t like the valuation, reject it, and your iThing will be returned to you by post.

What are the alternatives?

Apple Renew

Envirofone is a great way to sell your device – you get cash instead of vouchers, and the money arrives in your account the same day it receives your handset. It pays more than Apple Renew (an iPhone 4 currently fetches £22.70), and it too recycles the devices. It only takes phones and tablets though, so for laptops and desktops you’re out of luck.

Argos will take your phone or tablet off your hands, but only in exchange for Argos vouchers. offers cash on the same day it receives your phone – our iPhone 4 was valued at £24, and our Moto X 2014 at £56, which was the best we could find.

Apple Renew: the verdict

Apple Renew

Right now, it’s all a bit of a shambles. Apple gave us conflicting information on how it works, meaning we wasted a lot of time and money. It can’t even get the name straight – on Apple’s site, it’s referred to as Apple Renew, while Brightstar calls it the Reuse and Recycling Programme. It’s hardly surprising most of the staff we spoke to were confused.

And the returns aren’t great. Taking into account our wasted Uber journeys to the Apple Store and back, and the cost of sending the iMac via special delivery, our total profit came to just over £100. And we have to spend that with Apple.

Another downside is you’ll have to go a few days without your device while you wait for the process to complete. Though no rival service has an answer to this.

The only real advantage of Apple Renew is that you’re guaranteed your data is safe. But having been through it, we’d take our chances with eBay until it improves. 

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