Planned obsolescence, symbol of the waste society

Planned obsolescence, symbol of the waste society: the case of electrical and electronic products

September 2010. By Marine Fabre and Wiebke Winkler. Publication of CNIID and Friends of the Earth.

Obsolescence is the fact that a product becomes obsolete. Planned obsolescence is the act of voluntarily making a product obsolete at the end of a certain time “pre-programmed” in advance.

It is a practice, unfortunately, more and more widespread among industrialists but especially their shareholders in search of "always more profits". This 28-page study highlights the practice and the links below provide further discussion.

changes in consumption of household appliances in France since 2000

Evolution and cumulative consumption of household appliances in thousands of units sold between 2000 and 2008 in France. Source

Who has never been unhappy with the devices sold today? Fragile, complex, of mediocre quality, they sometimes make us nostalgic for the good old appliances sold in the past ... We often hear that the products designed today are less robust than yesterday, that the lifespan of the products is decreasing, that the "oven grandma ”still works well, although the advanced model bought a few years ago has already been scrapped after breaking down.

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Today's goods seem to last less; we have entered the era of a consumer society based on rapid product renewal. What are the factors that contribute to this reduction in the lifespan of goods? What are the reasons why we replace broken products instead of repairing them?

These developments, which seem to have accelerated over the past fifteen years, appear to be due to the ever-increasing pace of technological innovation, but also to tricks aimed at making a device obsolete so that it can be quickly replaced by a new product. The release of the iPad1, Apple's latest gadget, in May 2010 or even the current digital switch-over of French television channels are examples among others of this race for innovation which is leading to a renewal of equipment. households and an increase in e-waste.

For several years, Friends of the Earth and Cniid have alerted the authorities and the general public to the growth in the production of household waste and in particular waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE).

These mountains of waste are only the tip of the iceberg of our consumption patterns: they hide other problems such as the massive exploitation of natural resources and its heavy consequences for the environment and the populations of the countries of the South ( Africa and Asia in particular).

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For the study “Planned obsolescence, symbol of the wasteful society”, Friends of the Earth and Cniid relied on:
- Official data on the production of waste and the consumption of renewable and non-renewable natural resources: ADEME, ministry in charge of the environment in particular;
- The collection of data on consumption and on consumer goods from the UFC Que Choisir and the National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies (INSEE);
- Analysis of research work by associations or academics (economists, philosophers, etc.);
- Testimonials from professionals in electrical and electronic devices: repairers, engineers, researchers or professional associations;
- A questionnaire survey that we carried out on the after-sales service (SAV) of the main French distributors to measure their efforts to extend the lifespan of products through maintenance and repair.

This study aims to show the “behind the scenes” of our overconsumption societies. It aims to raise awareness of the challenges imposed by more sustainable modes of production and consumption. It opens up avenues for solutions that deserve to be further explored through research, in particular on extending the lifespan of products.

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Learn more and deeper:
- Industrial obsolescence, the story of a deception: facts and debate
- Le grand bluff, report from France2 - Special Envoy February 2010 - on the practice of overconsumption in household appliances. full report available.
- Two excerpts from the Grand Bluff

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