• Have your ever had an otherwise perfect TV stop working not long after your guarantee expired?
• Have you had to discard an otherwise perfectly functional laptop because it stopped receiving software updates?
• Do you have a stash of clothing that you no longer wear because you consider them to be out of style?
• Are you constantly having to dispose of faulty electric toothbrushes?
• Does your mobile phone screen keep breaking?
If you’ve answered yes to any of these questions then you have first hand experience of the world of planned obsolescence, a world where your purchase is designed to be functional and desirable for a strictly limited amount of time. This can be engineered through design, the use of non-durable materials or through removing the necessary spare parts from sale. Whilst devices designed to have a limited life span are inconvenient and expensive for the consumer, they help to ensure a steady rise in profits for manufacturers.
Planned obsolescence is becoming such a problem that in 2015, the French government created a new law forcing manufacturers to make customers aware of the expected lifespan of their appliances and the amount of time the accompanying spare parts will be produced for. Any manufacturer failing to abide by these rules will now face significant fines.
Why Is Planned Obsolescence Bad For The Environment?
As well as the costs incurred by having to replace electronic products within a short timeframe, there’s also the issue of what to do with that defunct vacuum cleaner or hairdryer. Repairing your appliance is an option but charges can be prohibitive enough to deter most people from venturing down that route. DIY enthusiasts don’t always fare much better as many of today’s electrical appliances are specifically designed to lock people out. Glue tends to be used more often than screws. Another option for non faulty electrical products is recycling but many people don’t know where to go to responsibly recycle their belongings. This can lead to an unnecessary glut of hazardous electronic waste. A report by the United Nations University (UNU) Global illustrated the scale of the problem. It stated that ‘Global electronic waste - which includes, hair dryers, battery operated toys, phones, washing machines and fridges - is increasing by 2 million tonnes annually and will reach 50 megatons in 2018.’
E-waste is toxic. It can contain heavy metals, mercury, cadmium and beryillium. When this waste is burned or buried, the chemicals harm the environment by polluting the air and leaching into soil and water supplies affecting plants, wildlife and humans. In humans this damage can result in kidney damage, liver damage and impaired mental development. The UNU report also identified Britain as being amongst the world’s most profligate producers of e-waste, ranking fifth in the weight of material discarded per inhabitant, with each Briton generating 23.5kg each year. The UK was also sixth worldwide in the total amount of e-waste the country generated, with some 1.5 megatons – barely 100,000 tons less than India which has 20 times the population.The results of our disposable culture stretches across oceans to harm developing nations who end up being on the receiving end our e-waste nightmare. The Environment Agency estimates that some 11,500 shipping containers are illegally exported from the UK each year containing either household or electrical waste – the equivalent of 200,000 tons of material a year.
It doesn’t stop there. The second hand clothing that we generously donate to charities can also have a damaging effect on developing nations. These clothes are often exported overseas to be sold to poorer nations. This influx has created some jobs but it has also undermined the local textile and clothing industries with factory workers losing their jobs and tailors losing customers due to the large amount of clothing being imported from Europe.
You Can Make A Difference - Here’s How
If you’re ready to push back against planned obsolescence here a few tips to help you.
1. Don’t feel pressured into getting an upgrade if your phone is still in good working order, keep using it. You’ll save money and the environment.
2. Avoid cracked screens by investing in hardwearing protective casing for your phone or laptop. These are highly effective in protecting your belongings from knocks, falls and even water.
3. Read online customer reviews before purchasing new electronics. They can be very helpful in giving you an insight into the quality and longevity of a product. Make sure to return the favour by writing reviews of your own experiences with product failure.
4. Say no to throwaway fashion. Commit instead to buying less clothing. When you do shop, choose quality and classic styles over on-trend ‘fast fashion’. Don’t dismiss quality preloved clothing which you can find online and in local charity shops.
5. If your unused electronics are in good working order don’t throw them away. You can sell them through sites such as eBay.com gumtree.com and craigslist.org or donate them through sites such as freecycle.org, ilovefreegle.org or charities such as The Furniture Re-Use Network. Mobile phones are even easier to offload as there are numerous companies who will pay cash for old devices.
6. Join one of the growing on and offline communities of people sharing knowledge of how to execute simple repairs of everyday products. You can even attend a Restart Party where you can learn how to fix anything from a mobile phone to a toaster. If you don’t feel confident carrying out your own repairs then try to find recommendations of accredited local repair people.
7. Seek out products with long-life products such as LED light bulbs which can last up to thirty years or ladder resistant tights. There’s even an option to choose refillable ink cartridges for your printer over single use cartridges.
8. Before you buy your new item, ask your retailer if they offer in-store disposal of your unwanted items. Many stores do offer this option and some will recycle for you even if you don’t purchase directly from them. If this option isn’t open to you, contact your local council to see if you can recycle through them. Also visit www.recyclenow.com for helpful advice on recycling.
9. Utilise your consumer power by avoiding brands that you know practice planned obsolescence.