The concept of programmed obsolescence is more present with each passing day and this is not surprising, since it is becoming increasingly clear that the useful life of the products we consume is shorter than before, a time that is being reduced more and more each day. Each and every one of us consume certain products that, on a routine basis, we will have to replace.
What is planned obsolescence
All products have a more or less long useful life. We distinguish two types of obsolescence :
- Obsolescence due to wear or evolution: before the appearance of programmed obsolescence, products were obsolete due to the natural wear and tear of their use, or due to the emergence of a much better technology that replaced them.
- Planned obsolescence: it is the most common today. In this type of obsolescence, the company that designs the product decides its useful life, according to its interest in selling more of said product or to make way for the next model that can become fashionable.
Thus, planned obsolescence is a business strategy that consists of restricting the useful life of the products with which you trade. The purpose of this strategy is very clear: to generate new demand so that the company can continue to maintain high sales levels .
Let’s take a very clear example: if a company that produces computers manufactures computers that last 20 years, in 20 years it will sell only one computer per customer, that is, in 20 years it will sell 20 computers. However, if you produce computers with a useful life of 10 years, in that same period of time you will have sold twice as much, that is, in 20 years you will have sold 40.
This strategy has important repercussions on industry, the economy, society and, especially, on the environment, as we will see later.
Within the “planned obsolescence” framework, we can find three basic strategies:
- Function obsolescence: A product with new functions is released.
- Quality obsolescence: the company introduces a part in the product that will last only during the period of time in which the guarantee is in force. In addition, they design the products in a way that is less profitable to repair than to buy a new item.
- Obsolescence of desire: the product is hardly changed, but the desire is generated in the consumer to buy a new one. A paradigmatic example is the fashion industry.
The documentary “Buy, throw, buy”, whose title refers to the evident consumer dynamics in which we are immersed, provides us with some examples of programmed obsolescence that are especially representative of this problem:
- Light bulbs – The first light bulbs to be produced were designed to work as long as possible. Later a thinner filament was introduced that broke more easily so that they had to be bought more often. This is one of the main reasons why to use LED bulbs .
- Nylon stockings: likewise, the first stockings were made with thicker threads and a more resistant intricate. By changing these characteristics, the now inevitable races in the stockings became common, leading us to throw them away and buy others.
- Cell phone or cell phone batteries: This is an example of a much more current product. A few years ago they could be changed without problem. Now some companies have prevented the user from being able to access the battery, completely preventing its replacement.
Advantages and disadvantages of planned obsolescence
Another issue to keep in mind about this type of obsolescence is to know well what are the advantages and disadvantages of programmed obsolescence. Here we mention the main ones:
Advantages of planned obsolescence
- Promotion of the economy: the capitalist economy needs to be in constant growth so as not to collapse. Scheduled obsolescence serves this purpose.
- More job creation: In principle, with more demand for products, more people can find work in the different parts of the production process, from design to manufacturing and many more. However, it does not mean that without this obsolescence there could not be another great variety of jobs related to the same products.
Disadvantages of planned obsolescence
- It generates waste: the constant production and sale of all kinds of products generates all kinds of waste of different materials, both recyclable and non-recyclable. These wastes end up polluting in one way or another, which is why reducing consumption is important, according to the 3R theory of ecology .
- It generates other environmental impacts: large consumption of water, energy from various sources and natural resources in general, such as raw materials for products.
- Lack of respect for the consumer: for a good part of the population, this behavior on the part of companies is unethical, both for consumers themselves, as there are also very expensive products that are given a very short life, such as For the environment. Many of these users end up buying similar products from other brands and / or qualities.
Planned obsolescence has a clear impact on waste generation , as it drives the world economy to consume resources that will ultimately end up as waste.
Bear in mind that planned obsolescence is not part of the so-called “circular economy”, so the waste that is generated is not intended to be reintroduced into the production cycle. In the best of cases, these wastes will be recycled, with the corresponding energy expenditure. At worst, and this often happens, they will end up creating serious environmental problems .
Many of these products are related to technology, one of the sectors that is currently advancing the fastest, and that is why we recommend you read this other post from Green Ecology on What to do with technological waste .
These are some tips to avoid consuming products with planned obsolescence or, at least, reduce their presence in our lives if we want to:
- Let’s remember the simple rules of the Rs : the first thing, always, is to reduce.
- We are constantly being bombarded by advertisements that urge us to consume a variety of items. But before buying, we can ask ourselves if we really needwhat we are asking ourselves: “if my phone works, do I need one of the latest generation?” Let us remember precisely that one of the modes of programmed obsolescence is not to generate a change in the product, but rather a desire in the consumer. This also leads us to another type of reflection, such as: “Is having a closet full of clothes that I don’t wear really going to add value to my life? Will my friends appreciate me more because I buy a car? new?”. The vast majority of advertising does not sell a specific product, it sells an ideal of life through a product. Letting ourselves be carried away by the consumerist maelstrom that happiness promises us can lead us away, precisely, from the full life that we want to achieve.
- Ultimately, we are always going to need products to consume. There are responsible companies that have already echoed this problem, incorporating the so-called ” sustainable design ” into their activity . Looking for these companies and consuming what they have to offer helps, not only to reduce waste directly and make us more responsible consumers , but also to encourage the expansion of this type of company.