First some personal nostalgia: In 1960 my parents moved into a new house, it had a larder in the kitchen, but my mum decided she needed a fridge, and duly my parents bought one which was a bit older than the one pictured above.
In 1977 I moved out into a rented property. By this stage my mum wanted a fridge freezer so I was given the very same fridge which I painted sunshine yellow to match my new kitchen (here revealing my appalling taste in décor). I carried on using the fridge for another four years until my partner and I decided we needed a fridge freezer and that was it, after 21 years of loyal service the fridge went to the tip still in working condition. I think this decision was probably related to changes going on in lifestyle, both of us working and the availability of frozen convenience meals.
Well that’s the nostalgia bit done, but all of us are experiencing an ever quicker change in our lifestyles, with work and money-related issues putting a strain on our time, so we tend to seek out the next gadget or appliance that will ease these pressures.
Built in obsolescence
As COP26 ends and we see the failure to agree on meaningful change by the world’s leaders, I would like to focus on a change that has not received much mention.
We have all been in that situation where an appliance has failed, be it TV, washing machine, mobile phone, or any other electrical appliance.
My own approach has been one of resilience; use a search engine, watch a how to video, try and find the part online and undertake a repair.
I recently had to replace the keyboard on my laptop. I managed to source a new one for £40 and set to work. It was a fraught touch and go operation, but here I am typing this piece.
This is an exception though; when the printed circuit on my washing machine failed, the cost of the part was virtually the same as the cost of a new machine, so I gave in and bought the new one.
Manufacturers are constantly developing new products and must-have gadgets. The latest gaming consoles, the latest mobile phone etc, or by developing new software that renders your smart tech obsolete. Being a bit of a Luddite, this is being typed on a laptop still running on Windows 7.
What happens to all these discarded unfixable electrical goods?
Well the answer appears to be that we dump them on poor countries:
“As more and more of us use and replace electronic devices, manufacturers have failed to offer solutions for how to deal with the resulting waste, and much of it is exported to a toxic dump in Ghana where scavengers do their best to salvage what they can. Blame Game investigates the murky world of global electronic waste disposal, where legal grey areas, a lack of investment in recycling, unscrupulous businesses and politicised application of the existing laws lead to wasted opportunities, environmental degradation and for the people of Agbogbloshie – hellish living conditions in a toxic dumping ground.”
Now surely as consumers we have some responsibility, but do not manufacturers also have a responsibility to build in reparability, ease of maintenance, easy upgradability, and, ultimately, at the end of its life, sustainable recycling?
This to me is just one of the elephants in the room at COP26. Agreeing standards and legislation to improve the life cycle and sustainability of these electrical goods could, would, and should be possible.
The unfortunate truth is that our political leaders are bought, sponsored and sold on all the issues that COP26 was meant to address by the very culprits who produce the problem.
Our throw-away, ever-consuming lifestyles are a direct result of corporate greed and political choice driving an insatiable thirst for profit over planet.
See you at COP27 blah blah blah.