19 March

How Planned Obsolescence Affects E-Waste

Electronic waste is increasingly problematic, something you likely hardly think about while enjoying some time on some of the best online casinos that pay out without any hiccups. According to a 2014 report from the UN Environment Programme, the global market for electronic waste in 2013 reached 25.9 million tonnes.

And it’s difficult to estimate how much of this material is littered or dumped on land, with limited and often conflicting data. The devices can take hundreds of years to decompose.

One problem, however, is that current models of electronic waste management (EWM) do not take into account the fact that much of the discarded material actually ends up in landfill.

Most governments use the same model that’s been used for the disposal of other forms of waste, which ignores the environmental factors that actually cause electronic waste to accumulate in the first place.

According to researchers from the University of York and Swansea University, almost 70% of the electronics we discard today are thrown away without a plan for future reuse.

This is a particularly serious issue as it has to do with planned obsolescence and planned retirement in the first place.

We now know that this increases both the rate at which we go to landfill as well as the likelihood that we will actually need the device in the future.

Planned obsolescence

An investigation by the UK’s Office for Waste and Resources of Business and Enterprise found that planned obsolescence was responsible for the increase in electronic waste from a small amount to about 3.6 million tonnes between 2005 and 2014.

This figure is almost 20 times the amount of electronic waste collected from European countries in 2005.

Spending money on technologies designed to fail in less than a decade means that we need to make sure they are fully used up before they stop working – and discarded before they are so badly degraded that they’re no longer of any use.

Not only is this method of waste disposal ignoring the vital environmental factors that cause electronic waste to accumulate, it’s also actually creating a much larger issue of waste in the first place.

Instead of responding to the problem by dumping electronic waste in landfill, we need to develop methods that enable it to be reused, refurbished and recycled.

This may include ways to encourage companies to replace electronics less frequently. For instance, by reducing the time and money required for repairs to devices.

Planned retirement

This approach would also encourage companies to actually retire their products when they no longer meet our needs – as they currently do.

The problem of planned retirement also exists for people’s actual retirement.

We know that most pensions go out with nothing more than half of their target amount. And we don’t want that to happen to us as well.

So what should we do?

Responding to the problem of planned obsolescence and planned retirement would likely be a good way to prevent a lot of unnecessary waste and preserve some of the valuable materials involved.

We can also consider making it easier for individuals to afford and consume electronic devices when they are actually needed.

Because when electronic products are not only pointless but expensive to use, people will not really need to replace them before they go out of date.

Liam Coughlin, Associate Professor of Environment, Engineering and Materials at the University of York and David Stark, Senior Lecturer in Urban Planning at Swansea University.