Planned obsolescence of devices harms the environment impacting animal welfare

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Planned obsolescence

The state of the environment is important for animal welfare. Damage the environment and you also harm the animals including of course the human-animal. There is a clear trend among the mighty manufacturers and retailers of gadgets, predominantly computers and smart phones, towards increased built-in obsolescence. In addition to planned obsolescence, gadgets such as Apple computers are becoming harder to repair so they have to be replaced which adds to the tsunami of thrown away high-tech gadgets and devices which end up in landfill or which are incinerated.

Planned obsolescence

Planned obsolescence. Photo:

It is said that Apple’s 2019 MacBook Pro 16 inch is ranked at one out of ten for repairability. In other words consumers can’t repair their Apple computers which is what Apple wants. It is very hard for Apple to sustain such massive growth through normal means. They make high quality computers which last a long time. My Apple MacBook Pro 17 inch has lasted about 11 years and it’s still very good. So Apple have to resort to questionable behaviour (to put it nicely) in order to sustain this growth. They solder and glue internal components of their devices which makes them almost impossible to repair by the consumer.

In addition, MPs on the UK government’s environmental audit committee said that consumers were unable to access device manuals. When they go to Apple for repairs the cost is too high to justify and therefore the consumer has to by a new computer or phone.

A few years ago there was a bit of a scandal about Apple iPhones because the battery life deteriorated and it was found that this was a built in process through software. It happened to my phone and I bought a new one, this time a Samsung S5 but I find that this phone is now less useful than it should be because new apps do not run on it. This, too, is a form of planned obsolescence. I am extremely reluctant to buy a new smart phone.

This “waste tsunami”, to quote the environmental audit committee, amounts to 155,000 tons of phones, tablets and laptops incinerated or chucked into landfill in the UK.

Consumers are buying more products than they need to and it is argued that some companies are deliberately making them hard to repair. It isn’t just computers and phones. Washing machines are pretty well impossible to repair because the cost of repair approaches the value of a new purchase. What’s the point?

The United Nations has highlighted Britain’s habit of discarding electrical items. The citizens of Britain threw away more electrical items last year than anywhere except Norway. There is another aspect to this problem. If you chuck computers and phones into landfill you have to dig up more precious metals out of the ground to make new products. This translates to wildlife habitat being destroyed for mining. Forests are being cut down in some instances for mining. Forests are the homes of many wild species.

The members of Parliament on the environmental audit committee want all the electrical products labelled with their life expectancy together with a “repairability score”. In addition, consumers should know for how long they will receive software updates. I would also add that we need to know for how long a phone will be compatible with new applications.

Repairing and recycling must become commonplace for electronics – Philip Dunne, the committee’s Conservative chairman.

In defence, Apple said that there were more options for customers for trading in, recycling and receiving repairs than ever before. Amazon said that it has supported the recycling of more than 10,000 tons of electronic waste in the UK over the past 10 years.