The battle against planned obsolescence

Governments, NGOs and consumers fight this practice that generates millions of tons of e-waste (electronic waste) every year
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What is planned obsolescence?

One of the main problems with the current linear economy’s production and consumption model, as opposed to a sustainable circular economy system, is planned obsolescence. Planned or programmed obsolescence refers to the deliberate shortening of a product’s useful life by the manufacturer in order to increase consumption.

Planned obsolescence is a serious environmental problem for the planet. Every year, up to 50 million tons of electronic waste are generated, a very high percentage of which – around 85% - is usually discarded randomly, ending up in waste tips in developing countries, creating a risk for the environment and the health of people, animals and plants.

To combat planned obsolescence, which is also costly to consumers who have to renew their products more often, several initiatives exist, including a European Union directive, certification for the prolongation of product lifetimes, and specific NGO programs.


Government directives

After years of lobbying, the problem of planned obsolescence gained ground in Europe’s legislative arena when, on 4 July 2017, the European Parliament approved its Resolution on a longer lifetime for products: benefits for consumers and companies.

Thanks to this act, users of electronic devices will be able to repair their terminals with any service provider simply, without the need to resort to the manufacturer’s official technical service. The directive also includes fiscal incentives for products based on quality, durability and ease of repair.


Reducing e-waste

This directive aims to reduce the quantity of electronic waste each EU country generates and challenges head on the current trend among manufacturers of introducing designs and components that are increasingly difficult to repair or replace without specialist tools.

In addition to European legislation, some countries are also creating their own legal frameworks to anticipate planned obsolescence. The best-known case is in France, where, after a drawn-out political battle, fines of up to 300,000 euros and prison terms of two years can now be slapped on manufacturers who plan for their devices to stop functioning after a time.


What is ISSOP certification?

ISSOP is a mark awarded by Spain’s FENISS (Foundation for Energy and Sustainable Innovation Without Planned Obsolescence) certifying that companies produce environmentally-respectful goods and services, without planned obsolescence, preferably by fair trade, contributing to emissions reduction and correct waste management. Companies such as Casio, SostreCívic and Scanfisk Seafood carry this mark.

In the case of fish product company Scanfisk Seafood, for example, the ISSOP mark was awarded in 2016 for its invention of a refrigerator operating with renewable energy and that recycles leftover water, and the fact that the device and its components are repairable and upgradable without planned obsolescence.<

Planned obsolescence can cost people a total of up to 50,000 euros during their lifetimes


Alargascencia: an initiative by Friends of the Earth Spain

In response to planned obsolescence, Spanish NGO Amigos de la Tierra (part of “Friends of the Earth” International) launched an initiative, Alargascencia, against obsolescence, advocating the greatest possible prolongation of the useful life of products through the buying, sale, rent and exchange of second-hand goods. For this, it has created a network of establishments that serve as a meeting point to swap unneeded objects and also repair them, thus avoiding the need to buy new ones.

“Amigos de la Tierra” is not the only NGO to take on planned obsolescence. Greenpeace has also launched a campaign to promote the better repair of mobile devices, as an antidote to the current tendency to be buying new ones all the time.

The battle against planned obsolescence


Up to 50,000 euros per consumer

Consumer and user organizations are forming a common front against the abusive practice, pointing out that 99% of our products are planned to be obsolete before their time, something that on average will cost people between 40,000 and 50,000 euros during their lifetimes.

The organizations claim that electro-domestic items, for example, are currently made to last between two and 12 years, yet are made from materials that should comfortably remain useful for half a century at least.

And tackling planned obsolescence is not only a battle against abusive use of resources and an unsustainable economic model, but also against climate change.


Sources: Alargascencia, El País, Fundación Energía e Innovación Sostenible sin Obsolescencia Programada, El Mundo, El Periódico, Equidad, El Español, Parlamento Europeo, FENISS and Muy Computer.