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Planned Obsolescence Legislation – An Easy Win For The Degrowth Movement

Banning planned obsolescence would be a major step forward in the fight for a more sustainable future. Indeed it is one of the low-hanging fruits that degrowth advocates can achieve, as consumer groups have been pushing this for years.

The rise of repair shops like the Men's Shed at Waikanae Beach.

Additional arguments against planned obsolescence:

  • Planned obsolescence contributes to the throwaway culture that is a major driver of environmental degradation.
  • It creates jobs that are not sustainable in the long term, as they rely on a constant stream of new consumers.
  • It leads to a loss of skills and knowledge about how to repair and maintain products. In turn, this can make it difficult for people to live without consuming new products.

Planned Obsolescence: A Global Problem

Planned obsolescence is a major problem for consumers and the environment. It forces consumers to replace products more often, which creates unnecessary waste and pollution.

In recent years, there have been growing efforts to legislate against planned obsolescence. In 2015, France became the first country to ban planned obsolescence. The French law requires manufacturers to provide clear information about the lifespan of their products and to make spare parts available for a minimum of 10 years.

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Other countries are also taking action against planned obsolescence. In 2020, the European Union adopted a directive on waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE). The directive requires manufacturers to design products that are more durable and easier to repair.

The United States has not yet enacted any federal laws against planned obsolescence. However, there have been several successful class-action lawsuits against companies that have been accused of engaging in planned obsolescence.

The fight against planned obsolescence is an important one. It is a way to protect consumers, businesses, and the environment. By legislating against planned obsolescence, we can create a more sustainable world where products are designed to last.

Legislation against planned obsolescence has arrived

Here are some of the countries that have taken steps to legislate against planned obsolescence:

  • France (2015)
  • Norway (2018)
  • Netherlands (2019)
  • Italy (2020)
  • European Union (2020)

These countries have enacted laws requiring manufacturers to provide information about their products' lifespan, make spare parts available, and design products that are more durable and easier to repair.

These efforts are a step in the right direction, but more needs to be done to address the problem of planned obsolescence. We need to continue to raise awareness about this issue and push for stronger legislation in other countries.

By working together, we can create a world where products are designed to last and where consumers are not forced to replace their products more often than necessary.

Unfortunately, New Zealand is behind. The Consumer Guarantees Act (CGA) provides protection if problems arise with the product or service purchased. The CGA allows consumers to seek repairs, replacements or refunds when goods are faulty.

However, if a product fault isn’t substantial and can be fixed, it is the supplier’s choice whether to repair, replace, or refund an item.

One News took up the issue in May 2023, noting that WasteMINZ was pushing for legislation.

Prosecutions under the planned obsolescence laws

There have been a few prosecutions for planned obsolescence in recent years.

  • In 2017, a French authority fined Epson around 1 million euros for using software updates that allegedly caused certain printers to stop functioning if third-party ink cartridges were used. The authority claimed this was a form of planned obsolescence, as users were forced to buy more expensive Epson-branded cartridges.
  • In 2019, a class-action lawsuit was filed against Apple alleging that the company had engaged in planned obsolescence by intentionally slowing down older iPhones with software updates. The case was settled in 2020 for $500 million.
  • In 2020 Apple was fined US$27 million in France for slowing down phones.
  • In 2021, a class-action lawsuit was filed against Tesla alleging that the company had engaged in planned obsolescence by intentionally reducing the charging speed and driving range of older Model S and X vehicles with software updates. The case was settled in 2022 for $1.5 million.

In all of these cases, the companies involved denied intentionally designing their products to fail prematurely. However, the settlements suggest that the companies may have been aware that their products were not as durable as they could have been.

Conclusion

Prosecutions for planned obsolescence are still relatively rare. This is because it can be difficult to prove that a company intentionally designed its products to fail prematurely. However, the increasing number of successful class-action lawsuits suggests that the legal landscape is changing.

As consumers become more aware of the problem of planned obsolescence, they are more likely to take legal action against companies that they believe are engaging in this practice.

The degrowth movement argues that a ban on planned obsolescence would help to reduce resource consumption, pollution, and inequality. It would also help to create more sustainable jobs and promote a more equitable distribution of wealth.

Deirdre Kent

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