Blog Post

Planned obsolescence and the effect of e-Waste

Planned obsolescence is a policy plan in which a product design is purposely made to fail in a given amount of time. When the time comes that the product has reached its predetermined period of use, it will cease to function or will be deemed obsolete.

A lot of questions on ethical consumerism and industrial design come into mind when it comes to planned obsolescence. This is a problem that still stands today. With the unceasing rise of new technologies and fads, planned obsolescence still exists to this day and continues to pose a problem in waste management.

The history of planned obsolescence

The whole idea of purposely making faulty products can be traced back to even the earliest roots of capitalism.

In the 1920s, electricity companies called the Phoebus cartel applied this principle to their light bulbs. They purposely made the lifespan of their products shorter from 2,000 to 1,000 hours so that consumers will have to purchase more light bulbs. This is a way to drive sales and double the income for the company.

This practice works pretty well given that this idea is being used by every single capitalist market there is. This leads us to the question...

Why does planned obsolescence continue to exist?

Markets will forever be competitive. Have you ever seen ads that promote a brand-new line of clothing, cars, or appliances? These ads will most likely be said along the lines of: "don't miss out and get the latest model out now!"

There will be promises of a brand new feature that cannot be seen in the previous releases. This is evident in the gadget industry in which companies release a new model gadget every one to two years with seemingly never-ending "upgrades".

Without knowing it, you find your old model gadget won't be compatible with any of the new features thus prompting you to buy a new one just to keep up.

This is where the idea of perceived obsolescence takes action. This happens when the consumer believes that the product is no longer useful, so they opt to upgrade or swap out their current item. This is extremely prevalent with appliances, vehicles, technology, and fashion because these goods are also known as status symbols. There will always be that psychological pressure to keep up with the latest trends and gadgets.

While it's easy to get lost in the moment when you're trying to get into the style, this can be extremely wasteful to the environment.

Planned obsolescence and waste in communities

According to the article by Bhutta et al, there has been exponential growth in the electrical and appliance industry as well as the parallel growth of their waste. Policymakers from around the world have given attention to the number of sales from the past two decades that will eventually lead to waste. With the idea of planned obsolescence, most of these products are being sold on a greater scale but the lives of these products are getting shorter. According to TheRoundUp, there is an estimated 57.4 Mt (Million Metric Tonnes) of e-waste generated globally in 2021. This has been a constant increase since the start of data collection in 2014. There is no exact number on how much waste the world has produced since not all e-waste produced is documented and the data collection was not started until 2014. So, there is a big plot hole as to how much waste has been produced. The main concern boils down to the point that most of these wastes are toxic and they do not biodegrade easily. Researchers. found levels of cancerous compounds in these landfills where e-Waste is discarded. In developed countries, legislation and guidelines have been developed to control these hazardous wastes. However, the lesser developed countries are still at major risk of toxic landfills and waste.

What can we do to help the community?

Woman Using Laptop

The rise of technological advancements and the need for capitalist growth cannot be stopped. According to Statista, there is an estimated increase of 74.7 Mt (million metric tons) of e-Waste alone by the year 2030.

In our little way, we can help by:

  • Dispose of e-Waste correctly.
  • Choose sustainable options.
  • Not purchasing every new upgrade.
  • Recycling our e-Waste efficiently.

Conscious decisions are important when trying to make a world a little less wasteful and toxic. After all, this is the only world we live in and every sustainable choice we make can make a huge difference.