Planned obsolescence

Obsolescence is a property that becomes obsolete because it is no longer in vogue or it is no longer available. Some products are oriented not to run or to be old-fashioned, to push people replace them and consume another product. But why?

Decrease the life and the attractiveness of a product, is a consumption strategy. These products are there just for a while: 6, 8 or 9 years against 15 years of life for the products in the past. Printers, IPhones and IPods never last more than 10 years. This strategy is widely used to appliances and electronics (computer, phone).

Planned obsolescence appeared in the years 1920 with the big crisis of 1929. In 1924 in Geneva, the cartel Phoebus SA fixed incandescent ‘s life to 1000 hours. The average life duration of the incandescent was 2.500 hours in 1924. Two years later the incandescent life decreased to 1.500 hours before breaking to 1.000 hours. The reason was that with the 1929’s crisis, we wanted to give more opportunities to the industry. This cartel is sentenced in 1953 but in practice nothing was done.

There are several types of obsolescence. First, there is technological obsolescence or operating. In that case, the end of life of the device comes easier. These are low cost but weaker, irreparable products (or indirect obsolescence) and products more sophisticated but less resistant.

Then, there is incompatible obsolescence where product’s applications are incompatible with this new product of the same brand. For example: the IPhone’s connector isn’t compatible with the previous version i-phone.

Finally, there is psychological obsolescence (or after sales service obsolescence). Here, people are encouraged to buy rather than repair the product but also, encourage people to get rid of the product before it’s out of service. The objective is to create a new product more fun with more applications. For example: buy the new version of IPhone  even if the previous one still works.
There are also aesthetic obsolescence (textile)in the fashion sector which constantly changes.

According to ADEME’s report, there is an economic obsolescence because of:

–          Technical reasons : technology boom, big innovations that make products obsolete

–          Economic reasons :  spare parts are expensive to store

–          Regulation reasons : digital technology, limitation of dangerous substances

–          Consumption reasons : fashion

These different reasons are found in previous obsolescence.

The principal problem of planned obsolescence is that it promotes an intensive production activity which greatly contributes to the depletion of many resources (Oil, plastic, steel…). Another inconvenience is that this system promotes the growth of household waste in the world. Some are recycled while others are crammed into the recycling centers or even worse in the nature.

However, there are solutions like to choose a quality product, rent some equipment that people use less (lawnmower), give instead of throwing if equipment still works, to repair the product, but also make inquiries before to buy the product.

French public institutions have faced the issue. A law proposition was made to fight against obsolescence. It assures that the parts are available for 10 years, information to consumers, and specifies the crime of obsolescence.


Julie Arnoux


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