Planned IT Obsolescence Poses an Environmental Threat

Posted on

Jul 2nd, 2018



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It turns out, planned obsolescence is not only harmful to a consumer’s wallet; it’s a considerable danger to the environment as well.

In December 2017, Forbes published a piece regarding the class action lawsuit filed against Apple, following the company’s confession that it slowed down older iPhones in a bid to encourage Apple users to buy their latest, “speedier” models.

They go on to point out that Apple is not the only company that does this—not by a longshot—and, of course, the financial benefits these companies stand to gain from such an act are considerable. They end the article by pointing out that while planned obsolescence is great for investors, it’s not as forgiving on consumers.

Understanding Planned Obsolescence of Electronic Devices

According to Wikipedia, planned obsolescence (or “built-in obsolescence”) is “a policy of planning or designing a product with an artificially limited useful life, so it will become obsolete […] after a certain period of time.” It’s the tech equivalent of planting a time bomb. Once the clock hits zero, the product’s usefulness and usability go to null.

Why do companies do this? As mentioned earlier, it’s to encourage “loyal” customers to buy the latest model. Frustration, after all, is a very effective motivator, and nothing frustrates us more than something that is no longer functioning the way it’s supposed to.

Slower processing power, unsupported systems, limited storage space, obscure spare parts — all these are just some examples of what happens to gadgets and their subsequent components when they hit planned obsolescence.

Is it any wonder, then, that people never seem satisfied?

Understanding the Environmental Impact

Perhaps the most significant impact planned obsolescence has on the environment is the electronic waste it eventually leads to.

Put it this way; you already have a perfectly good smartphone. It can connect to WiFi, no problem. It has no issues making and receiving calls and messages. It’s got an ample amount of storage space for games and apps, and it’s got a decent front- and back-camera to boot.

After two years of use, everything slows down. You can no longer download apps because your system is outdated. You can’t update your system either because it’s no longer supported. You’re running out of memory and you can’t expand the existing card. On top of all that, there are a few minor—but inconvenient—glitches every time you try to use it. What do you do?
You go out and buy the newer, upgraded model.

What happens to the old one?

This is something a lot of us don’t like addressing, but ignoring a problem doesn’t make it go away. The fact of the matter is that the old units have to go somewhere, and we consumers usually only choose one of two options: into a drawer or box, to be forgotten, or into the dumpster for the garbage truck to take care of.

Hence; e-waste.

As a generation that demands so much technology, you’d think we’d be a little more sensitive with our leftovers. 2012 saw 3,420,000 tons of e-waste generated. Only 29% of that was recycled. The rest ended up crowding already-crowded landfills and dumps.

We’re up to recycling about 40% of all electronic waste on average, but that still leaves a heartbreaking 60% to rot. And it’s this rotting that’s the problem because the metals and materials that make up average smartphones, laptops, and tablets are in no way biodegradable. Nature cannot readily reabsorb them.

In an act known as bioaccumulation, the lead, copper, and mercury found in these gadgets can end up poisoning sources of fresh soil and water nearby. Incinerators that “handle” tons and tons of e-waste end up releasing toxic fumes into the air, which—in overwhelming quantities—can lead to serious health problems such as respiratory issues, lightheadedness, mental fog, and lead poisoning.

Corporate Wallets vs. the Environment

By releasing new models every few years, corporations are expending vast amounts of production wastes and discards to manufacture their electronic products. This alone is already troubling, as electronic manufacturing waste heavily outweighs residential e-waste (by as much as 5 times even, as far as EU is concerned).

By forcing customers to buy the latest smartphone, tablet, or wearable, corporations that employ planned obsolescence are forcing people to discard their older models. For consumers, it’s a financial inconvenience. For the environment, it’s a potentially dangerous strain.

If you would like more information about safely disposing of your e-waste, please contact us today. Our team of experts will ensure your electronics are disposed of using industry best practices and processes.