Planned Obsolescence: Are Big Companies Ripping Us Off?

Yeah sure, it’s not cool to harp on about “the way things used to be”. But sometimes those sentiments have a point.

Take the things we buy. They don’t last as long as they used to – that’s why ‘white goods engineering’ doesn’t exist as a trade anymore. Things are now literally built to be disposable. 

It’s bad for customers, worse for the planet, and also, it’s completely avoidable. And that’s what we’re going to talk about in this article.

What is planned obsolescence?

Planned obsolescence means to deliberately design products to fail prematurely or become ‘out-of-date’. A cynical customer would say that this is usually to sell you a pricey new product or an upgrade – and they’re probably right. 

And it gets worse. Even when the item is well within its expected lifespan, manufacturers might make it near impossible for you to repair your own devices - by using digital locks or copyrighted software, using incompatible screws or gluing components together, or by refusing to share their repair manuals. Some even add clauses to their user agreements so you (unknowingly, because who reads those things?) agree not to fix your own products. This is being widely spoken about as part of a movement called “Right to Repair”.

Basically, it means your devices don’t last as long as they could and generally, even minor issues need to be resolved by an approved repairer (ever asked Apple to look at your battery?) Considering the hassle, cost, and downright annoyance, most of us play right into the manufacturers hands and purchase a new, or upgraded device - increasing profits and justifying this practice, at least on a commercial level.

How planned obsolescence impacts mobile phones

Your smartphone is a great example of this. Most devices contain a Lithium-ion battery that will begin to falter after approximately 300-500 charge cycles. If you have an Apple iPhone, that battery is glued in place and protected by proprietary screws, making repairs and battery replacement is next to impossible. But don’t worry... A newer version of your phone will come out every 2 to 3 years, so why pay for a costly battery replacement when you can put that money towards a new phone?

Used phone batteries in a tray

Ok, ok so planned obsolescence is bad for my bank account - but what else?

It should be no surprise to anyone that creating tonnes of new electrical items and throwing away old ones is bad for the environment. Every year, up to 50 million tonnes of electronic waste is generated, and a huge chunk of that – around 85% – is discarded randomly.

In 2019, e-waste reached 53.6 million tonnes globally. That’s a 21% increase in e-waste production in the past 5 years, and of that, only 17% was recycled. The rest piled up in landfills or got illegally shipped from higher-income countries to lower-income countries. You’ve likely seen the towering piles of waste in developing countries – and this is one of the practices that significantly adds to what is both an environmental and human crisis. 

Add to that, the manufacturing process to create each phone, tablet or other smart device – emitting 40-80 kg of CO2. When you throw away a device early, rather than using it for as long as possible,or recycling it, we further deplete the planet of rare-earth elements used to create the next one. 

This isn’t putting the blame on your shoulders either – after all, if you can’t fix your phone, you’ll buy a new one. Right? But wouldn’t it be a whole lot kinder to the planet if manufacturers made their products last just 1-2 years longer?

Luckily for the planet, and for your purse strings – the tide is turning against this exploitative practice. 

The people fighting for the right to make devices work for longer

Groups are starting to hit manufacturers where it most hurts – their profits. In the US, Apple has recently agreed to pay up to $500m in settlements related to allegations that software updates caused older iPhones – such as the iPhone 6, 6s+, 7, and 7+ – to slow down. In France, the same issue resulted in a fine of €25m (£21m).

France has taken some serious concrete action too – fines of up to €300,000 and prison terms of 2 years can now be given to manufacturers who plan for their devices to stop functioning in time.

Then there’s the Right to Repair movement we mentioned earlier, which has gained significant traction in the past few years. Activists in the EU, US, and Australia have helped spur the introduction and passing of legislation to force manufacturers to provide access to repair knowledge and tools. In the UK, this legislation went live over summer 2021, and now manufacturers will be legally obliged to make spare parts for products available to consumers for the first time – a new legal right to repair.

Great news to have government backing – but what can you do as a consumer to fight this practice?

People power

Of course, looking after your device as well as you can is a great start – simple things like screen protectors and cases mitigate damage caused by clumsy hands.

You can also avoid getting sucked in by new models and releases. Sure, the hype is always there, but unless they actually offer significantly more value than the device you’ve got in your pocket right now – it’s never really worth it. 

Maybe the best way of sticking it to the manufacturers is by not buying from them at all.

Sometimes you might want a ‘new’ device and that’s fair enough. But you should be fully aware of the costs, especially the environmental ones.

What is Doji doing?

At Doji, we exist to stand against this wasteful and harmful practice.

Our tech marketplace has been created so that you can experience the ease and satisfaction of buying a ‘new’ device – without the impact. 

When you buy refurbished, the manufacturer no longer reaps the rewards each time you upgrade your device – think of it as a form of protest. In real terms, they’ll be less inclined to make newer models fail. You still get an up-to-date model with all the bells and whistles – but without lining the pockets of businesses who might force your hand into spending more money by making it fail quicker.

Saving the environment, setting yourself up with a shiny new smartphone for less money, and sticking it to exploitative business practices? Sounds like a win for everyone involved… Except maybe Apple. 

Try it for yourself, on Doji

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