Tackling “planned obsolescence” of electric goods

Britain is considering how it can tackle the number of products that end up in landfill. Ministers are also looking at laws to force manufacturers to make spare parts available for at least seven years and encourage repairs rather than replacement of broken products. Andrew Ellson discusses latest developments in an article on The Times website.

 

Lifespan labels on electric goods to cut landfill waste

Washing machines, fridges and televisions may have to carry labels that tell shoppers how long they are expected to last under government plans to tackle the number of products that end up in landfill.

Ministers are also looking at laws to force manufacturers to make spare parts available for at least seven years and encourage repairs rather than replacement of broken products.

The proposals are designed to tackle “planned obsolescence” in which products are designed to have a short lifespan so they are replaced frequently.

The government’s plans have emerged amid growing concerns about the environmental damage caused by the “replace and waste” culture around electrical goods.

Research in 2019 found that extending the lifespan of smartphones, laptops, washing machines and vacuum cleaners across Europe by one year would save as much carbon emissions as taking two million cars off the road each year.

It found that the manufacture, transport, sale and disposal of smartphones was responsible for 14 million tonnes of emissions across the Continent each year, more than the entire carbon emissions of Latvia.

The average lifespan of a smartphone is three years, with more than 200 million new devices being sold across Europe each year.

Laptops last about six years on average, while washing machines work for about 11 years and vacuum cleaners stay the course for six and a half years.

The UN has said that the average person in Britain discards more electrical items each year than anywhere else in the world except Norway.

Under the plans being drawn up by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, new products will also have to be built with parts that “can be replaced with the use of commonly available tools”. A spokesman for the department said yesterday: “We are committed to reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050 including by pushing for products to use less energy, resources and materials both to tackle climate change and help cut bills.”

The government intends to bring in the measures after publishing the results of two public consultations on ecodesign and energy labelling later this year.

Although there is a widespread belief that manufacturers deliberately design goods to have a shorter lifespan, little concrete evidence of the practice has emerged.

French officials fined Apple €25 million last year for deliberately slowing down older iPhone models without making it clear to consumers.

The American company admitted that it slowed down some models with software updates but said it did so only to prolong the life of the devices.

In November a report published by the environmental audit select committee of MPs said that some companies were deliberately making items difficult to repair.

The committee called for products to be labelled with their life expectancy and carry a “repairability score”.

Philip Dunne, the Conservative chairman of the committee, said: “Repairing and recycling must become commonplace for electronics.”

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2 thoughts on “Tackling “planned obsolescence” of electric goods

  1. A set of excellent proposals. Let us hope the U.K. government expedites their introduction immediately.

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