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Planned Obsolescence

By Lizette Salmon, Coordinator, Repair Café Albury-Wodonga

Planned obsolescence is now a crime in France. Marvellous, isn’t it? Since August 2015, company directors face a two-year prison sentence and significant fine if they use techniques that deliberately reduce the lifespan of products. This legislation was introduced to protect consumers from such practices, reduce the volume of waste and preserve natural resources. French people had been buying around six times more electrical and electronic equipment than in the early 1990s, largely due to planned obsolescence.

It’s a practice that began with light bulbs. In the 1920s, they lasted an average of 2500 hours, but by 1940 the average had become 1000. Official documents have now shown that a secret cartel of the three biggest light bulb producers decided that no light bulb should last longer than 1000 hours and members would pay fines if their light bulbs lasted over this limit.

In the 1930s, businesses even lobbied the US government to make planned obsolescence on consumer articles compulsory by law, to stimulate and perpetuate consumption and counter economic downturns. Although it didn’t become compulsory, many companies did it anyway.

Smart phones, printers, stockings, washing machines, fridges, cars, computers and so on. We’ve all been faced by a repair that is more expensive than replacement or even with updates that are impossible to implement. The technology exists to make things last, but product durability is deliberately being tampered with.

France is not the only country to legislate on the issue. Belgium, the Netherlands and Finland have taken steps in this direction, with the European Parliament working on it also. But China, Taiwan, the US or Australia do not appear to be taking action. With a government that drags its feet on so many environmental matters, we’re unlikely to have legislation on this soon.

In the mean time we can all support initiatives that ‘make and repair’ rather than ‘buy and chuck’. These include the local Repair Café and Make Albury-Wodonga group, both of which will be operating this Saturday 20 February.

The Repair Café is a free service for people to bring broken furniture, bikes, clothing and battery-operated appliances and learn how to repair them with the help of an experienced volunteer repairer. It’s being held 10am-1pm at Wodonga Senior Citizens Centre.

Make Albury-Wodonga is hosting a free ‘Makerspace’ from 2.00-4.00pm at Felltimber Community Centre, to allow community members to experience 3D printing and robotics.

For further details on these events visit eco.redsally.com.