What is planned obsolescence and how does it affect the electronics in my business?

Most products we buy – at home or as a business – have built-in lifespans.

Manufacturers call this planned or built-in obsolescence.

This built-in lifespan is designed to limit the length of time a product will function to its best capacity, the idea being that this will spur people to upgrade and buy newer models.

By shortening the time between repeat purchases, manufacturers aim to increase sales revenue and offset the research and development costs of improvements to their products.

This idea is hugely important to manufacturers of electrical and electronic goods such as printers, computers, laptops, cameras, and mobile phones.

How do manufacturers do this?

Contrived durability– Reducing the time a product takes to deteriorate. The design process means that the length of time a product needs to last is built in from the start, ensuring the components all match that timescale. For example, the decision might be taken to use softer metal in components and to use more fragile plastics.

Repair prevention– Products may be designed without the ability to be repaired easily. Take the example of single use cameras by comparison with ordinary cameras, or cheap digital watches which are sealed in factories and cannot be opened to replace the batteries.

Making them unfashionable – Changes to the styling of electronic products are often carried out to make older models feel less fashionable and desirable.

Changing the system– Software often changes to ensure older models cannot upgrade to it, driving people to buy newer models. Think laptops and PCs, for example, where multiple software upgrades can be carried out, only for the next software upgrade to be incompatible with the hardware.

Disabling products– After a certain period of time, some inkjet printers cannot be used because their smart chips prevent it. Manufacturers are programming obsolescence in from the start.

What are the implications?

One of the main issues which come out of this trend is the need to deal with e-waste effectively.

As products deteriorate and are replaced, they must be made safe, disposed of correctly, and recycled wherever possible.

Every year, around two million tonnes electrical and electronic items are discarded by householders and companies in the UK.

As businesses, we all have a legal duty to follow the UK regulations on the disposal of electronic and electrical waste, or the WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) regulations.

WEEE waste must be categorised, transferred correctly with the right paperwork, and sent to a suitable facility for recycling and disposal.

There are 14 different categories at present, and in January 2019, the rules will be extended to more items of electronic waste.

The Health and Safety Executivehas an advisory page giving more detail on specific components in e-waste.

Businesses which breach these regulations can face fines and clean-up costs – and any legal action can also hit business reputations.

So, what can your business do to protect itself?

Hire an experienced WEEE waste handling company, such as Inspire Waste Management, which will help you set up the right processes to deal with your WEEE waste securely and safely and help you navigate the complex rules.



Do you know your numbers when it comes to electronic and electrical waste?

electrical wasteThe numbers involved in dealing with electronic and electrical waste are staggering.

Globally, we generate more than 41 million tonnes of e-waste each year, a report in 2014 found. That is expected to rise to around 50 million tonnes this year, the United Nations University says.

The UK alone generates 2 million tonnes of electronic waste in a year.

The Environment Agency calculates that waste crime – the deliberate mishandling of electronic waste  – takes as much as £1 billion from legitimate waste businesses and the Treasury in taxes.

Waste is often illegally sent to developing countries in a black market estimated to be worth £14 billion a year worldwide. There, it is often burned, releasing toxic fumes, or buried in landfill. Read more about the threat from illegally handled e-waste here.


Why is so much electronic waste produced?

Many electronic gadgets have a built-in obsolescence. In other words, they are created with a view to being obsolete within a few years.

This happens because technology is changing at a fast pace, and new innovations are constantly being brought into the marketplace.

Take the mobile phone market. In the past few years, we’ve seen better phone cameras, new innovations when it comes to shooting and storing video, assistants such as Siri and Cortana added to software, more capability to deal with apps, improvements to phone batteries, and better speakers for playing music or listening to podcasts.

It’s now possible to shape some phones and wear them around our wrists, such as the Samsung Galaxy X, thanks to innovative new materials being used in their production.

So, producers have brought out up-dated versions of their phones or created whole new lines.

What can happen if e-waste is not handled correctly?

Mishandled waste can pollute the soil and water courses, add to greenhouse gases, help deplete the ozone layer, and can have a devastating impact on human health because of toxic radiation or toxic fumes.

Electronic waste can contain dangerous chemicals such as nickel, mercury, and cadmium.


Who is responsible for dealing with it?

There are 14 categories of the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment regulations (WEEE), incorporating phones, laptops, fridges, batteries, small electrical items such as toasters and kettles,

All retailers – in physical stores and online – must provide a way for their customers to dispose of old domestic electrical and electronic equipment when they are sold new items. They must either provide their own take-back service or join one created by distributors. Find out more here.

Producers of electronic and electrical goods must register every year and take on the responsibilities of a distributor if they sell directly to the public. They must also provide information on environmentally sound treatment of the products and their components and keep records for four years. Find out more here.


How do you choose the right company to handle your electronic waste?

Experience – Look for a company with a track record in dealing with electronic or electrical waste items, such as Inspire Waste Management. They will understand the complex rules associated with it and help you ensure your waste is correctly categorised.


Registration– Ensure the WEEE carrier is registered with the proper authorities. In England, that’s the Environment Agency, in Wales, Natural Resources Wales, in Scotland, it’s the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, in Northern Ireland it’s the Department of Agriculture, Environment, and Rural Affairs.


Destination– Ensure your carrier is taking the WEEE waste to a facility which is licensed to recycle it, and that they will provide you with an audit chain for your e-waste.


Do you need advice from our Inspire Waste Management experts in dealing with electronic waste? Call us on 0800 002 9282.