We could think that with all the problems waste is causing and the economic credo which tells u to use rare resources in the most efficient way, products should be designed to last as long as possible.
Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Planned obsolescence is the introduction of an artificial limitation on the life of a product in order to increase sales (simplicable, 2017).
There are different types of planned obsolescence (simplicable, 2017):
- Razor & Blades: the main product is sold cheaply while supplies are very expensive so that the company makes more money the shorter the supplies last (example: printers)
- Technology: updates slow down older devices to motivate consumers to upgrade to a newer version of the product (example: smartphones)
- Fashion: trends are created which imply that last season products are unfashionable in order to increase sales
- Regulations: regulations like mandatory vehicle inspections encourage customers to purchase new products instead of investing in expensive repairs
Moreover, my personal impression is that more and more products are built which can’t be repaired efficiently so that buying a new product is cheaper.
But this is not only due to the companies. The problem reflects the ravenous consumer culture we live in (BBC, 2016). Actually, this consumerism even benefits us, even if it is only in the short run: on a macroeconomic level the fast turnover of goods creates jobs and supports growth (BBC, 2017). It also powers innovation and improves the overall quality of products available (BBC, 2017).
Now what could be the solutions to this problem?
There are also forces which encourage producers to extend the lifespan of products. For example people starting to compare the depreciation of cars over the years led to a markably increased average age of passenger vehicles on the road from 5.1 years in 1969 to 11.4 years in 2017 (BBC, 2017). Our intelligence as customers can therefore clearly make a difference!
Some companies are as well looking for more sustainable solutions. Tesla for example only rents its batteries to the car owners and resells them for home energy storage if they are no longer strong enough for the cars (BBC, 2017). Moreover, Google (cnet, 2016), LG (greenbottle, 2016) and Fairphone (fairphone, 2017) develop or already produce smartphones with exchangeable parts which can be repaired and updated to newer technologies without disposing the whole phone.
Image: Fairphone 2 (Source: https://shop.fairphone.com/en/)
So let’s reduce waste by buying intelligently designed products which support new, sustainable business models!