What is planned obsolescence?
Planned obsolescence occurs at the design stage of a product; that’s the planning part. The obsolescence comes as a result of making design decisions that limit the useful life of an item. This predetermined shelf life for a non-perishable item is the definition of planned obsolescence.
Half Point Images
Why is planned obsolescence bad?
It is usually cutting short the average lifespan of a product for the commercial benefit of a company i.e. you will end up buying twice as many of said items if they survive half as long.
Unfortunately this phenomenon lies at the heart of a capitalist society and is often exacerbated by marketing which builds on the power of 'new', getting people into debt so they can buy things they don't need.
What is an example of planned obsolescence?
A prime culprit of this malicious method of manufacture is the tech industry. Gone are the days where you can physically open up your computer and replace component parts. They started by making it difficult by requiring bespoke or specialist tools (another purchase) and now make it altogether impossible by welding key parts, like batteries, in. This results in the entire machine becoming redundant if one part fails. Costly financially to the customer and to the planet when it comes to disposing of and replacing the device. The only benefit is to the manufacturer. We could see this as unfair at best, but it seems more accurate to call it out for what it is: Unethical.
Types of planned obsolescence
This may get us riled when we consider a machine we paid thousands of pounds for but the fact is this throwaway culture has gone under the radar for many of us when it comes to more commodity items. Things as basic as lightbulbs and clothes were once designed to last but were made so affordable that it was no major financial burden for consumers to throw away and buy new each time without questioning the change or ethics behind the convenience of our use and throwaway culture.
How to avoid planned obsolescence
Consider where the item that you’re buying will go when you no longer need it. A fundamental factor of being a conscious consumer is taking on the responsibility of doing your own research. There are companies out there trying to make this easier for us but equally, there are others trying to profit from our willingness to do the right thing. Some things to ask yourself but also the company you are buying from, right at the early decision stage: Can it be reused? If so, by who? Can it be recycled? If so, does it need to be sent to a specialist facility? Does the company who made it offer a take-back scheme? It’s no longer good enough for things to be thrown ‘away’ (wherever away is) because the likelihood is that someone is unnecessarily coming into contact with that waste. Certification is one thing but look for transparency in the companies and brands that you are dealing with. However big or small they are, they should share your concerns and ethics. The chances are, the smaller, independent companies will be more agile and open to a conversation than the conglomerates.
How to combat planned obsolescence
As well as seeking out durable items that are made to last, think about learning some key skills to do all you can to extend the life of that item once it is yours. At Socko we are big advocates for our right, as consumers, to be able to repair the things that we own. We believe that there is a lot that can be learned from the way that things were done in the past and this is why we teach textiles repair and why each pair of our socks comes with a mini mending kit; to promote the idea that the most sustainable items are the ones we already own.
This doesn't make us luddites, by all means embrace the amazing advancements that technology has enabled, just be sure it doesn't mean you have to compromise on your right to extend the life of the things you own.