Action 335: Be aware of planned obsolescence

planned obsolescenceDate: 01 December
Action: 335
Cost of taking action: NIL


By our guest author Divya Hari in Singapore

Planned obsolescence – what does it mean?

It all started with the light bulb industry, was propagated by the auto industry and today it is proliferating in several industries from fashion to smartphones and appliances to stationary.

Planned obsolescence is the practice of deliberately designing failure into a product, or making it unattractive after a time, so that the buyer repeats the purchase sooner that they would otherwise.

An early example was way back in 1924, when an international group of lightbulb manufacturers called the Phoebus Cartel came up with a scheme to increase sales by bringing the average bulb’s lifespan down to just 1,000 hours; prior to this the average lifespan of a light bulb was around 2,500 hours.

And in the auto industry, to sell more cars after reaching a saturation point, General Motors decided to convince customers that it was all the rage to keep buying new, updated cars.

Learn more

Visit these links to learn more about the history of planned obsolescence

To this day, manufacturers still use planned obsolescence to boost sales and deliberately design products to fail prematurely, artificially reducing their life-span and making it very hard to repair or reuse which then forces consumers to buy a new product instead. It is a strategic effort to turn a one-time customer into a repeat buyer.

iphoneAn up to date example is Apple’s iPhone – when the battery fails it cannot be economically replaced; hence we’ll have to replace the phone itself.

Why is this a problem?

Discarded appliances from homes and businesses are some of the largest contributors to waste, amounting to up to more than 50% of e-waste. The lifespan of electronic goods is becoming shorter and on average, less than 20% of e-waste gets recycled responsibly.

While we should be adopting a circular economy model to alleviate pollution, conserve resources and reduce waste, most electronic items still tap into the linear economy which follows a Take-Make-Consume-Dispose-Pollute approach. With current technology, ideally, products should have longer lifespans, not shorter.

Planned obsolescence creates more waste and pollution, uses more natural resources, and certainly contributes to climate change!

How not to be a victim of planned obsolescence

The answer is to look to the Waste Reduction Hierarchy: Refuse-Reduce-Reuse-Recycle.

Refuse any product that you do not need or can be harmful to environment, including freebies. Keep in mind the immense amount of waste already being generated and overwhelming our planet. It is important to not get swayed by the latest trends; we can very well live without certain products. After all, you do not really need to replace your TV every few years!

Reduce consumption. Take good care of things you already own and keep them functional for as long as possible. Opt to purchase upcycled or used items, instead of always buying new, and buy repairable items.

Try to repair and extend the useful life of items through reuse; hand on to others or repurpose whenever possible. Be creative and find a new use to give items a second life if they no longer serve their original purpose.

Many of today’s gadgets make repairs impossible with glued parts or surfaces, or void warranties if tampered with in any way. However, not all items for under this category. Search out repairable items when purchasing.

Finally, it will help to buy products with a lifetime warranty since even well-made quality products would wear out or break with regular use. When companies offer a lifetime warranty, they allow consumers to send in the product for repair thus avoiding them from buying new things frequently. Be sure to keep the paperwork and to follow up if a repair is needed – it’s very easy to forget if something fails after a few years.

The most environmentally friendly product is the one you didn’t buy”  Joshua Becker

The economy

It is sometimes viewed as being too simplistic to dismiss this practice of planned obsolescence as unethical, because it can be argued that it offers economic benefits.

However, with our up to date understanding of the cost of environmental damage, we no know that planned obsolescence is built on an unsustainable economic model and has significant implications for the environment due to abuse of resources and contribution to waste.

Take action

By being aware of this practice, consumers can tackle planned obsolescence by making better, conscious and informed choices; after all, it is our duty – all of us – to protect the environment!

This article has been contributed by Divya Hari in Singapore
Follow Divya on Twitter at @IvyKriss