Sonos Recycling Mode Is Anything But

January 10, 2020

PAT PILCHER delves into the issues around a so-called ‘recycling programme’ that’s totally counter-intuitive.


Sonos ‘recycling programme’ is a problem

Having shrunk the amount of plastic in use at our home to near a near non-existent state, I’m still faced with yet another problem: e-Waste.

The reality is that old electronics are bad for the planet. In response, many tech companies launching sustainability programmes. This includes Sonos, who’ve kicked off their own programme in the US. Their initiative sounded great, as Sonos users got a 30 percent discount if they recycled older Sonos gear.

But sadly, it turns out that an issue in the recycling programme has surfaced.

The catch is that for Sonos users to be eligible for discounts, they have to enable a Recycling Mode that bricks their older Sonos gear. This, in effect, means that the hardware becomes useless for resale.

This all came to light when Devin Wilson, who works at Renew Computers in the US, vented his frustrations with Sonos’s recycling programme on Twitter. According to Wilson, a customer brought in five Sonos Play:5 speakers. He discovered that none were able to be resold as the speakers had been put into “Recycle Mode” and permanently rendered unusable.

Sonos ‘recycling programme’ is a problem

Given the toxic compounds in electronics that can leach into groundwater and contaminate soils, keeping electronics out of landfill should be a no-brainer.

The silly thing is that Recycle Mode doesn’t actually destroy the hardware. It just renders it unusable, so it gets dumped. Sonos says they do this because, “Over time, technology will progress in ways these products are not able to accommodate. For some owners, these new features aren’t important. Accordingly, they may choose not to participate in the Trade Up programme. But for other owners, having modern Sonos devices capable of delivering these new experiences is important, so the Trade-Up program is an affordable path for these owners to upgrade. For those that choose to trade-up to new products, we felt that the most responsible action was not to reintroduce them to new customers that may not have the context of them as 10+-year-old products, and that also may not be able to deliver the Sonos experience they expected.”

I don’t know about you, but to me, their explanation sounds a lot like, “We want to sell more new stuff which is WAY more profitable”. Recycle Mode just seems a heavy-handed means of forcing people to purchase new Sonos hardware more than anything else. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had Sonos gear scattered through nearly every room in my house for years. I consider Sonos to be the gold standard for multi-room digital audio. That said, deliberately causing environmental damage to make a few extra bucks simply borders on being obscene.

Sonos ‘recycling programme’ is a problem

My own views aside, other Sonos users are pissed off. According to Gizmodo, who snooped around Sonos’s user forums, some Sonos customers have already been burned by Recycle Mode. Gizmodo notes that one particularly unlucky customer bought a second-hand Sonos widget only to find out that it was in Recycle Mode and useless. Other similarly unfortunate Sonos customers have also accidentally bricked their gear, rendering the speakers unusable. Either way, the net result has been more e-waste and the environment becoming the real loser. Again.

The real irony is that the “recycling programme” is probably creating more e-waste than would have happened if the programme had never existed. This smells of Sonos profiteering under the guise of environmental good and an improved customer experience. Sonos could have launched a certification process for recyclers. It would have seen older Sonos gear recycled or resold, minimising the mounting e-waste problem. My suggestion is that Sonos customers don’t use the Recycle Mode and instead choose to sell older Sonos gear at around 30 percent of its original retail price.


Pat has been talking about tech on TV, radio and print for over 20 years, having served time as a TV tech guy and currently penning reviews for Witchdoctor. He loves nothing more than rolling his sleeves up and playing with shiny gadgets.

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