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Living Lightly column

They don’t make them like they used to

By Alan Hewett

How often have you taken something to be repaired and been told it’s cheaper to buy a replacement than fix it? We have an Australian made vacuum cleaner that is over fifty years old. Sure, it’s a bit heavy to drag around but it does its job, and it hasn’t broken down in all that time until recently the main hose perished.

I took it into a local repairer and couldn’t help boasting about how long we’d had it with no problems. He then showed me a similar model which had been owned by his mother-in law. It was older, worked perfectly and was in better condition than ours. We had to agree, they don’t make them like they used to.

Why is this so? Well, there was a time when manufacturers prided themselves on making products that were built to last but along came planned obsolescence. This idea originated during the Great Depression and was a plan to have governments impose legal obsolescence on personal-use items to stimulate spending.

By the 1950’s however planned obsolescence was promoted as ‘instilling in the buyer the desire to own something a little newer, a little better, a little sooner than necessary.’ Unfortunately this increase in our consumption has resulted in plastics in our waterways, a polluted atmosphere, biodiversity loss and increased use of fossil fuels (which have exacerbated climate change).

As consumers we must try to reduce our consumption by not continually upgrading products that work perfectly well. Nowhere is this more apparent than in our use of mobile ‘phones. On average we change our mobiles every two years even though the old ones still function. A famous company introduced a software update on their phones which caused them to deteriorate forcing people to buy new ones. As well, mobiles are deliberately made to be difficult to repair.   How can we stop planned obsolescence? Governments must implement standards to make products durable, repairable, upgradeable and recyclable. France has actually made planned obsolescence a criminal offence. As individuals we must limit our desire to keep consuming.  While we have adopted re-cycling programmes and seen the establishment of enterprises such as repair cafes there needs to be a widespread demand for the products we buy to last a lot longer, like our vacuum cleaner.