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What is planned obsolescence?

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.



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