Don’t you hate it when something breaks just after the warranty runs out? Or what about that new electronic gadget that fails to work with your old accessories from the same manufacturer?
Some of these infuriating problems were caused on purpose, by product designers practicing “planned obsolescence.” Planned obsolescence occurs when something is intended to wear out or stop being useful after a predetermined period of time — and that time is often as short as a few years.
Critics have long complained that planned obsolescence wastes consumers’ money, uses up valuable resources, and chokes our landfills.
The good news is that consumers are not entirely at the mercy of corporations. Armed with some information and foresight you can extend the life of some products or avoid buying them entirely. Here are strategies for dealing with some of the most irritating sources of planned obsolescence.
Planned obsolescence is a fact of life when it comes to consumer electronices. MP3 players are a glaring example. These units are rarely upgradable with more memory and their lithium-ion batteries often wear out before the product does.
In the worst case, such as with Apple iPods, the battery can’t be removed easily by consumers, forcing an expensive service request when it runs out. These advanced batteries are often expensive ($75 or more in the case of laptops, but still pricey for smaller devices), so extending the life is no trifling matter.
Luckily, there are a number of good quality “generic” batteries on the market for many devices. You can easily find them on eBay and elsewhere. These typically are not recommended by manufacturers, but problems are rare. It also isn’t that difficult to replace the battery in your iPod, and directions and how-to videos are online.
Finally, you can often prolong the life of your device by taking good care of it. Keep it out of temperature extremes, keep it clean and follow the charging/use patterns recommended by your manufacturer. In many cases, lithium-ion batteries do better if they are not run all the way down.
A set of new inkjet cartridges can cost more than the printer itself…yet you may be prevented from using every expensive drop of pigment. Many ink cartridges come with proprietary smart chips on them that disable printing when one of the colors falls to a certain level, even if there’s really enough ink to do the job. Plus, the smart chips can discourage refilling or use of third-party ink.
Buy cartridges that let you refill the ink. This cuts down on plastic use, and saves you serious money. You can also probably get away with printing less. Use draft and grayscale settings to save ink, and optimize content from the web or email before you send to the printer, so you don’t waste ink on headers, footers and ads you don’t want. You can also skip printing by using online backup services, Google docs and emailing things to yourself.
In software, as with some video game hardware, many titles are incompatible with previous files or programs. This definitely gives consumers incentive to upgrade across the board. Many users are also forced to upgrade to new editions after publishers stop providing support to older versions.
Instead of proprietary software, use open source titles, which are usually free for typical users, including upgrades. You also may be able to save money by using general titles instead of specialized ones that only do one thing, since you are less likely to get trapped into expensive service or upgrades later. For example, use Microsoft Excel or Google Spreadsheets instead of custom accounting software. Some users may also find that they don’t really need to get the latest and greatest upgrades, unless there are security reasons to do so.
Planned obsolescence isn’t limited to newer kinds of technology. Even though not much changes from year to year for most core subjects, textbook publishers issue frequent updates. Trouble is, each new edition is usually printed with the information shifted to different page numbers, making it difficult to follow along in class with a previous volume.
Given that textbooks are quite expensive, some students are fighting back by buying recently used texts at a fraction of the cost from places like Craigslist. Or perhaps even cheaper and more convenient, you may be able to rent the textbooks you need. Chegg.com, for example, is a mail service not unlike Netflix, in which shipping on return books is free. Chegg plants a tree for every book users rent, sell or buy, and rental costs range from about 10% of list price to about 30%.
Finally, some savvy students have discovered that they need not even buy every text on the class list; rarely used ones can be referenced at the library or shared among friends.
One year fishnets are out, the next year they’re in. Unless you have your own warehouse like Demi Moore, chances are good that you don’t hang on to every piece of clothing you own to wait until acid wash comes back into vogue. Whether it’s because of cuts, hemlines or colors, a lot of what is advertised and sold is designed to go out of style in a short time.
Instead of buying the latest and greatest apparel, consider timeless classics. Vintage clothes are a great green choice, and offer nearly endless style possibilities. Avoid so-called “fast fashion,” which is churned out quickly based on ephemeral trends and isn’t designed to last. Rent the items you’ll only wear once or twice, like tuxedos, prom dresses or possibly even hand bags. Finally, learn to mend the clothes you already have — that’s the greenest option yet!
By becoming more educated consumers, we can enjoy higher value and have less environmental impact.
By Brian Clark Howard