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E-Waste and Planned Obsolescence

E-waste and Planned Obsolescence

The rapid advancement of technology and the ever-increasing consumer demand for the latest gadgets have led to an alarming rise in electronic and electrical waste (e-waste). As per the UN, every year around 50 million tons of discarded electronics, such as smartphones, laptops, and household appliances, find their way into landfills, posing a significant threat to the environment and contributing to climate change. Recycling and reusing are essential factors in determining sustainable living practices but reducing or eliminating “planned obsolescence” is equally crucial, as it adds inefficient products to the environmental waste we are attempting to eliminate!

Planned obsolescence

Planned obsolescence refers to the deliberate design and manufacturing of products with a limited lifespan, aiming to encourage frequent repurchases by consumers. This strategy ensures that products become outdated or malfunction after a certain period, forcing consumers to replace them even when they could still function or be repaired. This practice has become a common strategy employed by manufacturers in various industries, particularly electronics, to boost sales and maintain profitability.

A classic example of planned obsolescence can be found in the smartphone industry. Manufacturers often release new models with minor upgrades, making the previous ones seem outdated and less functional. This compels consumers to upgrade to the latest version, generating a cycle of wasteful consumption. Another example is the short lifespan of certain household appliances, such as printers, which may be designed to break down or cease functioning after a predetermined number of uses.

There are several variants of planned obsolescence, such as perceived obsolescence (when designers “facelift” or change the styling of products so trendsetting customers will purchase the latest styles), contrived durability (shortening the durability level of the product lifetime before it is released onto the market by designing it to deteriorate quickly such as screens and batteries), prevention of repairs (products designed to be impossible to service), and systemic and programmed obsolescence (deliberate artificial disabling of a functional product through software degradation and lock-out, to prevent it from working thus requiring a buyer to purchase a replacement).

Planned obsolescence accelerates the growth of e-waste as consumers discard still-functional products in favor of newer models. From the extraction of raw materials to energy-intensive manufacturing processes and waste disposal in landfills, this excessive refuse generation contributes to environmental degradation. The persistent need to replace products increases consumer spending, leading to an increase in the cost of living for individuals and families as a whole.

Efforts against planned obsolescence

Recognizing the detrimental effects of planned obsolescence on both the environment and consumers, France took a significant step toward tackling the issue. In 2015, it passed a groundbreaking law targeting unsustainable business practices, which requires manufacturers to disclose the expected lifespan of their products and to provide information on how easily they can be repaired. This transparency empowers consumers to make informed choices and encourages manufacturers to design products with longevity and repairability in mind.

Companies found culpable of intentionally shortening the lifespan of their products are also subject to punishment under French law. Infractions of these regulations can result in hefty penalties (up to €300,000) and even imprisonment for manufacturers. By instituting such stringent measures, France intends to halt the growth of e-waste, encourage a shift toward more sustainable consumption practices, and promote a circular economy.

The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), an advisory body of the EU, said that replacing products that are designed to stop working within two or three years of their purchase was a waste of energy and resources and generates pollution.

The importance of ethical business practices over profit-centric planning techniques

While planned obsolescence may boost short-term profits for manufacturers, it comes at the cost of environmental sustainability and consumer trust. Embracing ethical business practices can have several long-term benefits, both for companies and society as a whole.

Adopting sustainable design principles and fostering product durability not only reduces e-waste but also enhances a company’s reputation. The demand for eco-friendly and socially responsible products is on the rise, and businesses that prioritize ethical practices are more likely to acquire customer loyalty and support.

Promoting repairability and providing spare parts for products enables consumers to extend the lifespan of their purchases, thereby saving money and reducing wasteful consumption. This strategy is consistent with the principles of a circular economy, in which resources are utilized efficiently and waste is minimized.

Additionally, ethical business practices promote a healthier planet and a more stable climate. Companies play a crucial role in mitigating the effects of climate change by decreasing e-waste and greenhouse gas emissions associated with production and disposal.

Influential economist John Maynard Keynes once said,

“The day is not far off when the economic problem will take the back seat where it belongs, and the arena of the heart and the head will be occupied, or reoccupied, by our real problems – the problems of life and human relations, of creation and behavior and religion.”

The escalating problem of electronic waste necessitates immediate action against profit-driven strategies such as planned obsolescence from both consumers and manufacturers. The time has come to prioritize the reduction of wasteful production. As responsible global citizens, we must prioritize ethical business practices that put durability, repairability, and sustainability ahead of short-term profits. By doing so, we can reduce waste production significantly and create a more sustainable future for future generations. Adopting ethical practices and reducing planned obsolescence are steps toward addressing these “real problems” and fostering a prosperous and environmentally conscious society.

#asmajanwrites #pearlsofwisdom #Reflections

Author’s Bio:

Asma Jan Muhammad is a finance specialist by day and a writer by night. Her extensive exposure to corporate financial management has honed her analytical skills which she aspires to use to inspire others. Her publications include “Reflections” and co-authored books “She Dares” and “She is Remarkable”.  Asma believes in enabling others and in promoting tolerance, diversity, and equality through her writings. He online address is https://www.linkedin.com/company/asma-jan-muhammad-author/

 

1 Comment

  • Muhammad Wajid Mirza
    August 7, 2023

    A good write – insightful

    Reply

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