Is it possible to recognize products that have been designed and manufactured with built-in or programmed obsolescence in mind, before I buy them? Are there guidelines how to recognize such products? Or can I find a list of typical products/brands to avoid somewhere?

Some examples of products I am currently aware of that have planned obsolescence:

  • some ink cartridge manufacturers program their cartridges to stop printing after a certain number of pages.
  • many cell phone manufacturers regularly change the plug for recharging the battery or connecting other accessories such as earphones, making old chargers/earphones obsolete.

but I suspect the list of products isn't limited to electronics.

Note that I am not interested in 'perceived or style obsolescence' here, but only in products that somehow cannot be used anymore after a certain time, which could be avoided if those products were designed a little better.

  • 2
    there should be a website that lists expected obsolescence per product – user3070 Feb 15 '16 at 18:24
  • I have had my panasonic cordless phone for 3 years. It has been losing battery power and cutting off, so I bought the special batteries for it. They are not helping! Phone is constantly saying 'charging' and will not last more than a few mins call before it cuts off. It has to be the base unit. Very annoying. Just because one can replace the batteries does not mean it is exempt from planned obsolescence. There is truly no way to know. Even with expensive coffee machines Ive had this. – user3329 Apr 24 '16 at 14:48
  • There is one, but it's in French. I asked if they were planning to make it multilingual. – J. Chomel May 3 '16 at 14:23
up vote 17 down vote accepted

Warranties

Keep an eye out for products that have long warranties. When the warranty is short you can expect a short average time until failure.

Parts

Look for products that have generic parts, especially when the part is expected to fail sooner than the rest of the device. One good example I can think of is cordless landline phones by Panasonic that use rechargeable AAA batteries in the handsets rather than a proprietary battery that would be much more expensive to replace.

Fashion

Industries designing for fashion essentially try to promote particular styles of product as fashionable for a season, knowing full well that it leads to increased sales but also leads to items being discarded before their useful life is up. When it comes to clothing, furniture and other products designed with attention to their appearance, look for classic styles that have been around for years, and for durability and function.

Books

Paperback books are cheaper to buy, but are not particularly durable and have a much shorter life than hardcover ones. If when purchasing a book, you believe it is likely to be used heavily or be of value for more than say 10 years, then consider spending extra to purchase a hardcover.

  • 1
    Nice answer! I guess when it comes to parts the first requirement is that the product can be opened at all (is not welded or something) As for books, I read somewhere that college education books often are reprinted with only minor changes so new students have to buy new editions. – THelper Jan 14 '15 at 9:02
  • 3
    Especially furniture from brands like IKEA have a low durability. You have to look for oak or other hardwood, indeed items that have been here for over a century will last another generation too. Or, make it yourself by using hardwood. Another aspect to look for is pricing. If it looks cheap, is cheap and feels cheap, it probably is cheap and won't last long. – Aschwin Jan 16 '15 at 9:25
  • 1
    Documentation - look for how well a product is documented, do you find all the info to repair it? – mart Feb 17 '16 at 8:22
  • The price may also serve as indicator. Cheap products tend to be less fixable. – Rainer Glüge Feb 22 '16 at 17:05
  • 1
    For specific products there are reparability scores online: ifixit.com/smartphone_repairability – Rainer Glüge Feb 22 '16 at 17:09

One thing not explicitly mentioned in Highly Irregular's answer:

If you can buy the product online or in a physical store, choose for the store.

This lets you investigate with your hands and eyes. Photos on websites often do not show that a product is assembled out of cheap parts, that its finish is cheap paint, etc.

If you e.g. want to buy a stereo and it has wobbly plastic controls, you know it can't be high quality.
Or it can be as simple as weighing an object: a heavy ice scoop ;-) is probably better than a lightweight one.

I also dare to generalize and say that local stores where you can talk to people provide better service/warranties than an online shop.

In France they're trying to build a site referencing planned-obsolescence products: http://www.halteobsolescence.org/ . Maybe we could build the same or help them go worldwide (at least by translating it). I asked them if they had an English version, and will update when they answer.

The principle of this site is that users can alert if a product is fragile, and on the contrary they also can promote long-lasting ones. But I think the stack-exchange format could greatly benefit this site, because we know nothing on the users that promote the products.

Before you go shopping – whether on-line or bricks-and-mortar – inform yourself about the product in question and keep an open mind about alternative ways of achieving whatever it is you ultimately want the product for.

How to get information

It pays to check reviews in magazines (possibly on-line) about the products you are interested in. You may be able to glean useful information even from reviews that are not primarily environmentally oriented.

Familiarise yourself with the various labels used in your country, some of which may give the impression of evaluating the environmental aspects of products while actually being more concerned with other ethical aspects such as fair trade or animal welfare, or just with quality; some are almost pure eyewash and merely stand for producers’ associations.

One can also – of course! – ask questions here, though I am not sure how we view questions about specific brands or products.

Sources of information

I am familiar with the situation in Germany, but perhaps others can contribute similar tips for other countries – I have marked this as community wiki.

Many of the labels given in the information for Germany are internationally used, and the NABU judgement on them (thumbs-up/-down etc.) can be understood without reading German, though that is needed to understand the detailed evaluation.

In Germany

  • Look at the reviews in the magazine Öko-Test (German Wikipedia article) Their web-site is http://www.oekotest.de/ .
    • Bear in mind that Öko-Test often evaluates products from the point of view of consumers’ health rather than environmental impact.
  • For a gallery of labels evaluated for their significance for the environment, see http://siegelcheck.nabu.de/ by the German environmental organisation NABU. This labels the labels as below. Clicking on a label tells you more about the criteria it represents and how the NABU regards it.
    • Genuinely green: one or two green thumbs-up
    • Sometimes helpful: a sideways thumb
    • Allows no conclusions about environment impact: (no thumb)
    • To be avoided: a red thumbs-down

As mentioned by other members there are some websites that do the selection for you. One that isn't mentioned yet is BuyMeOnce.

Please note that this a commercial webshop that has found an interesting niche of consumers who (at least think they) care.

So the criteria behind the choice of the stuff they are showing or selling is not really transparent of course, there could be some product-placement-sponsoring behind this... But they claim to co-operate with ifixit. It can give us some ideas, that credit we have to give them.

Always keep some own logic in mind (as explained by other members here) before making a choice. Especially do not replace a working non-durable thing by a durable one before it has broken down and cannot be fixed, and buy it somewhere in your neighborhood.

PS: I would rather have made this a comment but not enough reputation yet ;-)

I'm a newbie, so please forgive my just dumping a few ideas here...

The hinge on the freezer department/ice tray door in the top of your fridge is a weak point, no-one ever defrosted the freezer box regularly so when it backs up a little, with frost and ice but you still want the fish fingers? Then you force it and the little plastic hinge on one side or the other breaks, the seal never works properly again and the sensor ramps up the motor to keep the temperature right down, so it fills with ice quicker than it ever did. Moral of the story - buy a fridge without an ice box in the top, it won't self destruct AND YOU GET AN EXTRA SHELF!

  • Hi Dain and welcome to Sustainability.SE! Not sure if you meant to post two answers, but you could combine this information about refrigerators with your previous answer on sink/vanity units by editing your previous answer. – LShaver Oct 11 at 20:02

Sink units/Vanity units

When you buy a flat pack unit, find the really thin screw and nut that goes down thru the ctr of the plug drain which pulls the waste water elbow up to the seal on the underside of the sink. Replace this screw and nut with stainless copies. The sink might be stainless but this screw and nut are usually supllied cheap anodised and will rust out, but you won't know until the flood that comes after the drain elbow drops away. The shelf below the sink is chipboard with a cheap covering, the water gets into the chipboard so it expands and bursts the shelf out along the edges - it's never the same unit again and is much closer to the skip/dumpster as a result.

Just a replacement screw and nut to fix the inbuilt obsolescence.

  • Thanks for your answer, but I'm more interested in general rules and guidelines. Not specific examples. I guess we can summarize your post with 'check for stainless steel screws for everything that regularly gets wet' – THelper Oct 22 at 6:37

Your Answer

 

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you acknowledge that you have read our updated terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy, and that your continued use of the website is subject to these policies.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.