Making Planned Obsolescence Illegal


Ever wonder how the package knows exactly when your light bulb will burn out? Annoyed that yet another cellphone battery has gone dead and replacements are not available? Amazed at the precision with which manufacturers are able to make products that last exactly 2 weeks longer than their warranties?

aaa

Can we make planned obsolescence illegal?  The theory is terrific, but is it possible to force companies by law to create better products? Manufacturers understandably need to keep some secrets in the interest of healthy competition, but when their designs are destined for a quick trip to a landfill, the government needs to step in. Its certainly not a new concept to hold manufacturers accountable for their actions while still respecting their privacy; we regulate their employment standards and their output of pollution- we should also regulate the quality of their goods.

Society needs this, the environment needs this.

eee

Imagine every household has a conveyor belt flowing into it and a conveyor belt flowing out. This is basically what’s happening every day, we consume and we create. Light bulbs flow in, burnt light bulbs flow out. Electricity is flowing in, heat is flowing out. Celery is flowing in, waste water is flowing out (unless of course you run a greenhouse growing celery from wastewater- gross).

My hope is just to do something that slows these conveyor belts down so that our limited resources are not needlessly wasted. Fighting planned obsolescence achieves this. If light bulbs were designed according to their best scientific capabilities; they would only need to flow into the house once and stay there.

yyy

CAPO. Citizens Against Planned Obsolescence. You need a vague catchy name people can remember. “Citizens against” nicely doesn’t commit to anything since I’m not really sure how to go about solving the problem. Calling for a ban, or a new law is definitely the type of thing we should be interested in, we just need to ease people into the idea with a catchy name. Look at PETA, everyone knows this group and what they stand for, but the title is vague enough that they can explore many agendas pertaining to their overall concern.

So far the only groups claiming the name that i can find are the “Canadian Association of Psychosocial Oncology” and the “Canadian Association for Prosthetics and Orthotics“. I think we’d be safely distinguished from those who share the acronym.

ttt

Also see: How to raise and care for companies.

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30 Responses to “Making Planned Obsolescence Illegal”

  1. remistevens Says:

    Jules suggested to me on Christ eve that a “rallied” should be added. making the group name CRAPO. i love it!

  2. Jules Cosby Says:

    There is nothing I hate more than needless waste. For people like me, the end of December is the ideal time of year because it’s the furthest possible point away from yet another Christmas full of disposable EVERYTHING.

    The problem that I see is the ideology of freedom that pervades Western culture. Liberal democracies are structured so that they can’t easily interfere in the doings of business. Many successful court cases have been waged by private enterprise against the government after the latter attempted to legislate against the former’s business practices. How dare the government encroach on my freedom to make shitty goods!?

    Similarly, I can already see the free market apologist’s response to your suggestion of regulating the quality of production. She will say that since quality of this sort is subjective, the best way to decide which is better is by letting consumers decide on the free market. No government will ever be able to decide whether product A is better than product B. Only the market can decide that.

    Similarly, there are huge legal walls that are built right into liberal democratic constitutions that may prove challenging to climb. Of course, as 2008 as taught us, we are now squarely in the age of corporate welfare and state capitalism. So it may appear more palatable to start regulating in the manner you suggest (albeit carefully). Hopefully this happens before we destroy the planet completely!

    Changing the meaning of freedom might not be within the purview of CAPO/CRAPO, but material conditions already existing in the world may well prove to do that for us.

  3. Rupert Says:

    Hmmm, I think making planned obsolescence outright illegal might be a bit impractical – how would anyone measure or prove a case? It plays a big role in Reliability Engineering. After all, the engineers have to choose SOME timescale for a product’s longevity. The alternative is that a lot of money gets wasted on over-engineered products with no clear understanding of how or why they break.

    Bearing that in mind, I think one option is for companies to be forced to pay an upfront “pollution tax” to cover the disposal cost for each unit that they sell. It would have to be sufficiently expensive to counter-act a business’ desire to churn out junk that breaks too often. Consumers would still end up paying, but at least it would eventually result in greater choice and satisfaction with products that last longer.

    You also need to consider the various counter-arguments and sob stories that you might be presented with:

    “Companies would go out of business if they had to make their products tougher.”
    -That’s clearly a fallacy. That argument relies on brand loyalty and they are only kidding themselves if they think they can get customers to buy the same brand if it breaks after precisely 12.5 months. The only reason junk manufacturers don’t go out of business is that they are all very similar – a sort of “reliability oligopoly”.

    “Second hand goods are hurting our margins”
    -See above.

    You might want to look to see how the EU is dealing with this problem. They are far ahead of the US and Asia-Pacific regions.

  4. remistevens Says:

    Excellent comment, really good.

    You’re right, the title isn’t really possible, i used it more for shock value than anything. One way or another, planning the failure of a good should be avoided- but “illegal” just isn’t going to happen. Your suggestion of a waste tax is very good. We don’t need to make PO illegal, just expensive.

    The reliability oligopoly is unfortunately the only vendor many of us can afford to purchase goods from. People just need to realize they can’t afford and shouldn’t buy a 50 inch plasma- if they do its gonna break in 6 months. Spend wisely, get the 32 inch you can afford and get a brand that wont fail on you.

    We’re a very wasteful people, we do need to look at the rest of the world.

  5. How to Raise and Care for Companies. « The Remi Stevens Bolg Says:

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  6. End Product Abuse (EPA) Says:

    Sorry, I disagree with Rupert. It IS possible, through engineering, to discover why products break, and build in more “redundancies” (internal fixes when they do break). A pollution tax will not reduce pollution, just make it OK and more expensive!

    Legislation to make planned obsolesence illegal is absolutely possible. The testing process could simply show no or marginal wear-and tear during the testing period. If consumers find the product breaks down, they by law would get their money back.

    The postponed and planned obsolescence now in effect by Microsoft is downright ludicrous. We are living with inefficiencies that they already know how to correct, and we are wasting time and money buying new things. It could be fixed with a download.

    What would eliminating planned obsolescence do to our society? More integrity, less pollution. We have only ONE planet, and it’s appalling to hear the talk about “finding a new one” when the sun burns out. What would we have to show for it if things lasted? Well, we’d have more disposable…income…

    • remistevens Says:

      Hey great comment, thanks EPA.

      Its true the waste tax on producers could create a situation where inefficiency is OK- like the system of carbon credits. If you’re profitable enough, you can do whatever the hell you want. With fewer and fewer competitors out there, its not difficult for the biggest players to churn out a profit. Make billions transporting plastic garbage around and “cover” the environmental cost by dumping some cash on a tree farm in Brazil. Efficiency is desirable, but profit is paramount. If its more profitable to be fined for inefficiency, thats what corporations are going to do.

      I like your testing solution. Manufacturers could be required to give their best estimate on product life and display it prominently on the package. The product’s warranty could be the estimated product life. If the product’s demise was both planned and public, consumers could make the choice for themselves. Do you want a cheap TV that lasts 6 months or an expensive one that lasts 10 years?

      Don’t get me started on computers. They force us to re-learn and buy “new” software every few years that does all the same things the old software did. Not because it works better or was in any way necessary, but just because it requires learning and purchasing. . . .. Psychologically if you need to learn about something you will be more loyal towards it. Its why Starbucks puts their entire menu in a different language. Learn it, then be loyal.

      Personally, i agree with you both. I think corporate should pay for all of society’s waste and their processes should be heavily regulated and visible. If its across the board, competition will still thrive.

  7. American Competitiveness: The New Untouchables or The New Self-Fulfilling Prophecy? « The Social Critic’s Guide to Life, Faith, Politics & Media Says:

    [...] educated from an academic standpoint, but nevertheless highly skilled. In a very real sense, that build-it-to-last ethic was the ultimate expression of “Green” because durable goods were seemingly less likely [...]

  8. Fixing Everything But the Price « The Remi Stevens Bolg Says:

    [...] Planned obsolescence as an industry standard is price fixing. Its the legal, hidden equivalent to retailers jacking their prices in unison. Purchases: remember its not just the price, but how much you’re getting. Take something like dish soap. The water and container aren’t of any use to you, so lets assume when you buy a container of dish soap you are really just after a quantity of soap ingredients. A larger container watered down is pointless since you’re going to add it to water anyways. The more soap ingredients, the more useful it is to you. You’re paying a cost per quantity on those soap ingredients no different than the pump at the gas station. You’re pumping usefulness, how much are you getting per dollar? [...]

  9. Louis Ayala Says:

    I love the fact that I’ve found people like myself that deplore planned obsolescence and the environmental pollution that it causes. I am also concerned about the financial burdon it places on the less fortunate. The most disadvantaged consumers being the elderly or disabled on fixed incomes, single-parent families and low-income earners experience the brunt of planned consumer product obsolescence. Given a product such as a microwave oven, it may take months of saving for someone to actually purchase the product. Many times the purchase is not an extravagance, but provides the only means available for a person to cook their food. When the product fails and warranties no longer apply, the consumer is faced with the alternative to either repair or replace. Of course, one facet of planned obsolescence is to also control the price and/or availability of the repair parts such as to force the owner to purchase a new item. Price and availability control is also what has also contributed to the old-fashioned corner “fix-it shops” to be more or less extinct, thus depriving some people of less formal skills to eek out a living. Even with no overhead, the would-be home repairman can’t even economically repair the item and hope to make a profit for his time. So, the consumer must once again do without until they can replace the item. Besides the ever important environmental impacts, my secondary, but also important consideration is the need for legeslation that compels manufacturers to provide for the availability of affordable spare parts for the most used and more expensive repairable consumer goods. The moral injustice to the poor and the impact to the earth’s resources are the ethical issues that are the result of big business and their unending drive for higher profits. Something needs to be done. It is the right thing to do. I know there must be millions that would rally behind this cause. I believe you should package the writings from this site and send them to every member of congress and the president. Please do form CAPO/CRAPO. I will proudly wear the tee-shirt and the bumper sticker.

  10. remistevens Says:

    Wow! Thanks for the excellent, very encouraging comment. Sorry it took me a while to respond, I’ve been pretty busy lately.

    I absolutely agree with what you’ve said about the financially disadvantaged. If i hear another semi-wealthy person spout “vote with your wallet” I think i’ll be sick. If you’ve barely got enough to get by, you’re not having any sort of consumer vote, you’re buying out of necessity. The single parent scraping by can either buy a microwave designed to fail, or no microwave. Considering many of the poorer parents i know work 50-60 hours a week, something like a microwave is a necessity (If you want to spend any time with your kids that is).

    And you’re so right about the availabilty of replacement parts, this is something they’re really pushing here in North America. We need to try and model ourselves after places like Cuba. Try and find a new car in Cuba, you won’t. If you are lucky enough to own a car there, you take care of it and learn how to repair it yourself. People keep their autos going for decades in poor countries, many of us here don’t even change our oil.

    Ok, you’re right, I’m going to get on this CAPO thing. I’ll get started with a blog/website and start it up. I’m Canadian though, so i doubt your congress would listen to me. . . .Do they listen to anyone who isn’t a corporate lobbyist?

    Anyways Louise, thanks again. If you wanted to hear more these blog posts also talk about this subject: throw away good goods, don’t recycle and fixing prices.

    Also some great links in my blogroll.
    take care.

  11. Louis Ayala Says:

    Again thanks for the opportunity to contribute to your forum. I would gladly be your American counterpart for CAPO/CRAPO is you would like. Good luck !

  12. remistevens Says:

    Excellent! Well, you’re very welcome to head up the southern office- thanks for helping!
    I’ve purchased the domain plannedobsolescence.org , starting with what i know- a blog.

    I’m writing our mission statement for the about page. Having some quality links to good information will be important- finding other on topic bloggers is very useful also.

    So Louis, what are your skills? Are you a writer, reader, good with logos and images, people person? Just wondering how you would like to contribute and get this thing going? You can email me at bsotnikow@hotmail.com or better yet friend ;me on facebook where I check most frequently… I’m always here on the blog as well.

    And what do you think? Is Crapo too funny, not serious enough?

    Also, i thought Consumers might be better than Citizens- makes it more global.

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  14. Taqiyyotomist Says:

    I just want proof and vindication of the following of my paranoias:

    Irish Spring w/ “Hydro beads” was designed to last half as long as their standard bar soap.

    Edge Gel and other gel shave creams were designed so that more than 50% of the product slips through your fingers as you attempt to apply it to your face. (Once, I bought a shave gel called “Envi” at Wal-Mart. It lasted FOREVER, and didn’t have that quicksilver-through-the-fingers effect. Went back for more when it was gone, and BEHOLD! Wal-Mart no longer carried it. My conspiratorial mind thinks they saw what I saw and said “We can’t have THAT. Products that last. FIRE WHOEVER ORDERED THAT PRODUCT!”

    • remistevens Says:

      Excellent examples! Its not just products with mechanical parts!

      2 Things to watch when selling:
      A)You want to receive as much as possible.
      B)You want to give up as little as possible.

      The modern retailer knows that you’re coming back to the store eventually. The game is to make that as soon as possible. (B) is no longer about quantity, its about a time line of usefulness to the consumer. Good marketing involves convincing the consumer that they’re getting more: “hydro beads”, while actually giving them less usefulness.

      Funny i never really thought about the shave gel, but its true. Even just the way that stuff comes out- a solid stream of liquid as opposed to a frothy foam. You’re bound to use more per use as soon as you press the nozzle!

      I simply don’t have the time or resources to closely examine the function of every product i need. But on the other side of the trade, companies go through millions of dollars and thousands of specialist’s hours to trick me in the most subtle of ways! How do you compete with that?!

  15. Eli Quail Says:

    Hi, i must say fantastic blog you have, i stumbled across it in Bing. I bought myself the Microwave. I just love the way the Convection Oven works.

  16. Matt Says:

    I think you have the right idea but alot of waste is also in the form of items that are abandoned for newer products. Apple for example, will make a line of computers and when THEY feel they’ve reached their end of life, they will simply exclude them in their newer software releases (OSX) for example. The computers are still usable and can get work done. Their usefulness is ignored in the name of making a newer product so people will buy them. By making software no longer usable for older computers, they are often thrown out, still woking perfectly. I had an example of this earlier while trying to install a program for my dated osx 10.2 system. The lastest version of said program will only function on the latest iteration of OSX while the older one that functions on my earlier version will not even work anymore because it was rendered incompatible ON PURPOSE in order to encourage the buying of newer hardware which is now necessary to run the newest operating system, which is required to use the newest program. this trend seems to be happening all over. We live in a consumer world. Repairing one’s old appliances or electronics is something nobody seems to believe in. Nowdays, nore than ever, alot of us are struggling financially and having this mindset of simply buying new when the old is no longer working properly is a bunch of BS. Most companies charge a lot of money on purpose to repair your existing products, most of the time being majority of the cost of a replacement. Why can’t we go back to the 1960’s when electronics, when the average homeowner could repair his own stuff. Sorry for being so lengthy but I think I got my point across. I hope they outlaw this kinda BS.

    Regards,
    -Matt

    • remistevens Says:

      Ha! We must not be friends on facebook- no one goes on at length about how much they dislike OSX more than I.

      You absolutely nailed it. Its basically any product that gets used in combination with another product- software is the perfect model. Update one to force update on the other. . . The thing that bothers me the most with operating system upgrades is how you’re constantly forced to learn a new system. They change the names of things, move it around, but there’s no real reason for it. The operating systems we had in 2000 were fine, new features could simply be added. When a company dives into my pocket its annoying, but wasting my time on useless learning is downright depressing. We only have so much time and money, these bastards are after both.

      Reminds me as well of TV remotes. They put 50 buttons on it to force learning. You become vested in the product and are then more likely to buy the same brand when it breaks. Look at how many damn names there might be for the button that changes the TV’s input. Mode, aux, feed, line, . . . .its different every time! Humans are constantly learning things we already know how to do, any other species on this planet figures out what it needs to do and then perfects it. We can’t figure that out.

      Problem is, there is no one to outlaw any of it. Economies thrive on circulation, the shorter the product life is, the more it gets circulated.

  17. waste disposal units Says:

    waste disposal units…

    [...]Making Planned Obsolescence Illegal « The Remi Stevens Bolg[...]…

    • remistevens Says:

      Oh wonderful, thanks for your cognizant reply. I always appreciate when a random stranger’s script comments on my blog to try and hock products. You add so much and require so little.

      Please go f*** yourself,
      link removed,
      regards,
      Remi

  18. we Says:

    we…

    [...]Making Planned Obsolescence Illegal « The Remi Stevens Bolg[...]…

  19. hommedeseptiles Says:

    How are the plans for planned obsolence.org coming along Remi?

    • remistevens Says:

      uh, i should be working on that, too many projects. Haven’t forgotten…

      Great concept for your blog by the way, never thought of blog commentating sports! Admittedly I remain out of a number of loops.

  20. hommedeseptiles Says:

    Thanks. And looking forward to that site of yours being finalized. I can help. Just email me.

  21. Josh Says:

    The concept of planned obsolescence is one of the worst things I think we as a society has to deal with. When I really began to understand the concept I almost decided to change my education track (becoming an engineer) because I had lost so much faith in the human condition. I agree with the anger that is expressed in this article and the comments but I disagree with the general thought that we should try to make it illegal.

    In my opinion I think all of us individually are at fault for the trend of planned obsolescence. We buy things everyday that are junk and don’t take the time to really think about that purchase and what is going to happen. I am at fault too, just as much as the next guy. Apple has a very bad reputation for making this obsolete far quicker than they need to be but look at how many people line up as soon as they have put two new features into your iphone.

    The real way that people are going to win in this fight is to A) Research everything they buy and be informed before they go to the store and support a company by buying anything from them. B) Stop buying any and everything that they don’t need. C) Take care of the products that they want and need and learn enough about them that they can fix what there is a chance to fix themselves. If everyone did these three things no company could exist that didn’t build an open and solid product. Also the companies business model would change because they couldn’t rely on the constant re-buying of the same product.

    The power is really in each of our hands. First step is just getting the information out there and helping others to realize that this is going on. If you haven’t already check out the youtube movie the “Lightbulb Conspiracy” It is really informative on the subject of planned obsolescence.

    • remistevens Says:

      Hey Josh, thanks for commenting!

      Believe me, i agreed with that concept for many years, but i just don’t think the voting with your wallet thing is possible any more. For one, my wallet is pretty wimpy. My vote is pretty insignificant. But many people make a difference sure.

      Ultimately the problem is a lack of producers and retailers. There’s no choice anymore. You can buy the crappy version, or you can buy the really crappy version. If your only choices are bad, you will chose poorly.

      I like the idea that consumers could become experts, but this becomes harder and harder. People work longer hours, labels and such become more confusing and less informative. If you really wanted to be an informed consumer it would take all of your effort. To be safe in the marketplace we need to at some level trust some sort of oversight to make sure we aren’t harmed or defrauded. I’d love if what you suggest could happen, just don’t think its possible. And really i think this is evident in the world. We’re seeing less regulation and its equating to people consuming more poisons and being defrauded and receiving crappier products.

      I also like the idea of fixing and maintenance. Definitely. But again it comes down to how many levels of expertise can the average consumer keep in their brains. Many things even need practice to keep it up. To get to the point where we are able to be wise shoppers and handy fixers i think we first need to free up some spare time.

      I think its all in effort again to blame the common man for the ills of society. When you purchase something you pick it up and swipe a card or some paper- that’s about your only real connection to the product. You did not instruct someone on how to make it or where you wanted it distributed. You didn’t hire people to create it, ship it, package it, sell it. You really had very very little to do with it and all the bad stuff happened long before you got there.

      We need people to be accountable, pure and simple. You did it, actually did it. You are the one responsible. Authority follows an easy hierarchy. Consumers didn’t sign the document that ordered the pit dug, it was the CEO. Someone made the decision, always. We’ve been led to believe corporations and retailers are completely inhuman and social as though we create them day by day through our actions- in the same way we create the blogosphere, or traffic, or cultural movements. But retail/manufacturing is completely different, its not a social construct. Its designed by managers.

      If you planned to sell a product that is designed to fail you are defrauding your customers unless it says on the box “this is designed to fail prematurely”. Surely your customers aren’t aware of the planned demise, in fact, we’re often misled entirely as to the quality and intention of a manufacturer. They write things like ‘great’ and ‘amazing’ on the package, doesn’t that at least imply they gave it a good effort, tried to make it good? I’d have trouble writing ‘amazing’ on something and selling it to someone knowing i designed it to crap out ahead of schedule. Feels like fraud, and i think there should be legal consequences.

      http://remistevens.com/2010/04/03/you-cant-vote-with-your-wallet/

  22. Sonia Says:

    My spanish class is learning about planned obsolescence and I was wondering what your take is on the argument that ending it would severely harm our economy because of less need to buy new products. I know that people would need to do less work to produce all the goods if people had to buy new things less often, and that could result in less jobs. We read the proposal “Ending the depression through planned obsolescence” by Bernard London, which is obviously a different case because we are not in a depression but the lack of need for as many products could predict a similar situation. I still agree that it should be illegal and is terrible for the environment, I just want to know what you think about the other side. Thanks!

    • remistevens Says:

      hmmm interesting yes, a critical aspect i maybe didn’t cover. This is why comment and discussion is always appreciated! The push for circulation, it does seem necessary. A good analogy is running out of breath in a closed room. The easiest solution to a lack of oxygen is to breath faster. You can breath fresh life into a lost cause, but at some point it runs out in a finite system…

      Even beyond the environmental concern though its terrible the labour wasted on PO. Ultimately working more hours won’t save you from poverty, quite the opposite, it’ll just keep you too busy and dependent. The amount of stuff you actually get to consume relates to how much we produce and how we distribute- not to how many hours you work.

      Real world, how does this relate. I think its pretty easy really, drop the standard work schedule. Lets do 6 hour days or 4 a week or something. We create a system where we value our time above all else. Quality goods so we can spend less time making them and more time enjoying them. Less hours per person quickly employs a lot of people to make sure everyone can find an average income. Ideally we push it to 3 maybe 2 days a week as technology takes over for us.

      Hard times hundreds of years ago, people worked literally all day to stay alive, but all that necessary labour recedes with technology….Other history, WWII created a massive need for labour. When the war ended they changed the work day from 10 to 8 because there simply wasn’t enough that needed to be done anymore.

      The work week keeps increasing because shorter work hours would mean a return of entrepreneurs and free market- not really allowed any more….People would have the means to dedicate their own labour to their own endeavours.

      Thanks for commenting.

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