Planned Obsolescence: 5 Examples of Absurdity

planned obsolescence examples
Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / Bru-nO

Check out these examples of planned obsolescence to understand how companies trick you into buying new products over and over again. We’ll show you what signs to look out for and how planned obsolescence impacts you and our planet.

Planned obsolescence examples can be a phone in good condition that suddenly stops working, or a laptop showing bugs and errors out of the blue. The concept of planned obsolescence has actually been around for decades, with its origin in the motor industry in the United States when the idea of launching a new car model every year became popular. It essentially means that companies design products to become out of date after a certain predetermined period of time.

The goal is for consumers to reach for the new generation, and thus, boost demand and keep sales stable. Unfortunately, this behavior has a negative impact on the climate and consumer behavior. There are several ways it can present itself. We’ll give you a few planned obsolescence examples to get a better understanding.

1. Example of Planned Obsolescence: Your Favorite Electronics

A functioning smartphone and laptop are essentials for most people these days – and unfortunately also great examples for planned obsolescence.
A functioning smartphone and laptop are essentials for most people these days – and unfortunately also great examples for planned obsolescence. (Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / Mariakray)

While many electronic devices could technically easily be repaired, many companies actively prevent this. They make replacement parts unavailable or overly expensive, and leave the consumer with no other choice but to buy a new device.

One example of planned obsolescence is pentalobe screws — five-pointed flower-shaped screws that are incompatible with regular screwdrivers, to prevent easy removal with consumer tools. These are often used for phone displays. Likewise, using irreplaceable batteries with a short lifetime is a common practice. This is probably the most common form of planned obsolescence.

2. Planned Obsolescence Examples in the Toy Industry

Children's toys are often produced with cheap materials under poor working conditions and are a good example of how planned obsolescence can be found in several industries.
Children’s toys are often produced with cheap materials under poor working conditions and are a good example of how planned obsolescence can be found in several industries. (Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / Bru-nO)

Contrived durability is a strategy of artificially shortening a product’s lifespan and is seen as a type of planned obsolescence. It makes no excuses when it comes to products specifically designed for children. For example, toys often get produced with cheap materials such as plastic or soft metal in order for them to wear down more quickly.

3. Fast Fashion and Short-lived Trends

Fashion trends are can lead to a vicious cycle of buying and throwing away clothes.
Fashion trends are can lead to a vicious cycle of buying and throwing away clothes. (Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / Katja_Kolumna)

The Fashion industry promotes constant reboots of seasonal collections to drive consumption. Clothes are thus a good example of planned obsolescence in day-to-day life. Conventional manufacturers constantly release new styles and design clothes to be trendy for a certain lifetime until a new aesthetic takes over. It’s easy to become a victim of this fashion cycle, as the process of wanting to buy new things over and over again often happens unconsciously. We call this perceived obsolescence.

4. Denying System Updates

Software updates mostly come out on a quarterly or yearly basis.
Software updates mostly come out on a quarterly or yearly basis. (Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / jamesmarkosborne)

Another way of companies tricking consumers into buying new products, is making software updates incompatible with older versions of phones, computers or tablets. Such systemic obsolescence often occurs when a consumer is already prone to buy from a certain brand and will likely see purchasing the newer version as their only option to keep up with the system features and updates.

5. Single-use Items as Examples of Planned Obsolescence

While disposable cameras produce lots of waste, analog cameras can be a good alternative.
While disposable cameras produce lots of waste, analog cameras can be a good alternative. (Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / enzoabramo)

There are some products that inevitably become obsolete after a short period of time. Planned obsolescence examples in day-to-day life are disposable cameras, cutlery, shopping bags, water bottles, or take-out containers.

But it can also occur in more discrete ways. In the medical sector, some devices are labeled as single-use when they could safely be re-used if they went through the procedure of reprocessing: certain procedures of cleaning and testing could ensure that they reach the same quality level as original devices.

The Negative Impact on the Environment and the Consumer

Around six million tons of electronic waste are produced in the U.S. on a yearly basis.
Around six million tons of electronic waste are produced in the U.S. on a yearly basis. (Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / Pexels)

What’s so bad about planned obsolescence? The main issue is that it promotes a wasteful culture, contributing to overexploitation of resources.

Overconsumption and consumerism

By constantly being exposed to new products and triggered to buy them, you adapt a mindset of constantly aiming for more, new and better versions of the things you may already have. This materialistic approach makes you unhappy in the long run, as keeping up with new trends can be exhausting, stressful and expensive. It is also strongly tied to perception of social and economic status.

Electronic waste and its impact on the environment

Planned obsolescence contributes to a lot of waste. Electronic waste in particular can be extremely damaging to the environment. A good example is waste of smartphones in the U.S. Approximately 80 % of Americans own a smartphone with the average lifespan of two years. After these two years, most people buy a newer version and the old smartphone goes to waste. A lot of this waste ends up in landfills.

While landfills are necessary to a certain extent, they also have a lot of disadvantages. For example, they destroy natural habitat, produce methane, carbon dioxide and can create smog. This harms the environment and can be a danger to the health of those living close to a landfill.

How to Avoid and Counteract Planned Obsolescence

Rethinking your spending habits can benefit your wellbeing, as well as counteract consumerism.
Rethinking your spending habits can benefit your wellbeing, as well as counteract consumerism. (Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / athree23)

It’s easy to fall for planned obsolescence, but being aware of its downsides hopefully motivates you to pay closer attention to it and try your best to avoid it when possible. Here are some tips to guide you.

  • Shop mindfully and rethink your choices: Before purchasing a new product, ask yourself: Do I really need this right now? What benefits will I gain from buying this particular product? Also check with yourself, whether you don’t already have an equivalent product at home that can still be used properly. For example, when a recipe calls for a cheesecloth, check out our ten cheesecloth alternatives you might already have at home instead of purchasing one.
  • Do research on the product lifetime: Look into some statistics or reviews of the product you are looking to buy. If it’s obvious from the start that it has a short lifetime, you might want to look for an alternative model or brand that ensures longer durability. In Circular Economy, products are designed to be part of a reusable and stay durable for as long as possible. Here are six examples of circular economy and their impact.
  • Choose ethical and sustainable brands when possible: Find out what greenwashing is and whether you are currently supporting it. Look for companies that are transparent with the production process, the materials they use, and expectations regarding the sustainability of a product. Such companies will likely also guide you on the proper recycling process. Buying isn’t necessarily bad if you invest in ethically responsible and environmentally friendly products, and thereby, in the long term, use less resources than you would’ve with more short-lived products.
  • See if your product can still be repaired: As mentioned earlier, some companies manipulate the products in a way that makes it impossible for you to repair them. Often, though, it is still doable to repair something, so look into your options before deciding to buy a new version of it right away. Trends like visible mending for clothes or the Japanese art of Kintsugi (explained in our article about glueing porcelain) can help you get into the fun of repairing or upcycling your stuff.
  • Shop Second Hand: Find your favorite local second-hand stores, or look into second hand online marketplaces. This will boost your motivation to quit fast fashion. Besides the fashion industry, there are also stores for second-hand electronic devices, books, or even household appliances. This can be a great way of acquiring products of good quality or shape while saving money and making a stance against fast fashion and overconsumption.

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