Product obsolescence: investing in the right actions

Whether it is programmed, planned, or observed, when a product becomes obsolete, it has an impact on consumers’ wallets and generates tons of waste. How can we slow this trend down and contribute to the planet’s wellbeing? We have observations and tips for you. 

The various faces of obsolescence

 Amélie Côté is Analyst, Reduction at the Source at Équiterre. She immediately establishes three types of obsolescence: economic, technological, and psychological.

“Economic obsolescence is related to a product’s quality/price ratio. Think a new product sold for less than the cost to fix it.” Consumers rebuy and get rid of the old merchandise as a result.

Technological obsolescence is “linked to improvements to the product’s features.” Software updates that suddenly slow down your computer or phone, or the inability to replace the battery in certain electronics are examples of technological obsolescence.

Finally, the psychological dimension is “influenced by trends. Several consumers feel a need for change.” However, changing your wardrobe “to follow a new trend” or “modernizing” your kitchen has a real impact on budget and environmental plans.

Is there such a thing as programmed obsolescence? “It’s more difficult to prove,” answers the specialist. “One thing is certain: programmed or not, the poor quality of certain pieces or components sold at very low prices accelerates obsolescence.” In other words, it sets off the toss-and-buy-again cycle.In 2018, Équiterre unveiled the results of a study on the obsolescence of appliances and electronics, and the role of consumers [in French only]. It offers clients and businesses tips to improve their practices.

Circular economy: movement against obsolescence

“The traditional linear economics model uses up a significant number of resources,” says Émilie Chiasson, Communications Advisor at the Centre for intersectoral studies and research in the circular economy, or CERIEC.

Whereas linear economics fosters a cycle of extraction, transformation, transportation, distribution, consumption, and rejection, circular economics, on the other hand, uses approaches to preserve resources.Once they have the product on hand, consumers should develop reflexes “to preserve, repair, share, renew, recycle, or compost the resource,” explains Chiasson. Quebec Circulaire platform offers 12 strategies and a series of concrete actions in ecodesign, responsible procurement, optimization, collaborative economy, rental, servicing and repair, donating, reselling, reconditioning, recycling, and composting.Unveiled in 2021 at the initiative of Circle Economy and RECYC-QUÉBEC, the Circularity cap report reveals that Quebec’s economy is just 3.5% circular. The world average is 8.6%. Norway stands at 2.4%, the Netherlands, on the other hand, are at 24.5%; they are aiming to reach 50% within eight years, and 100% by 2050.

Tips for taking action

“Strictly economically speaking, it’s in consumers’ best interest to ensure the longevity of their devices to limit their debt,” notes Hélène Gervais, Industrial Development Agent at RECYC-QUÉBEC. 2021, the Crown corporation published the second edition of its study Portrait des comportements et des attitudes des citoyens québécois à l’égard des 3RV (reduce, reuse, recycle) [in French only]. The great news is that most households are looking to fight the impacts of obsolescence.

Tips from RECYC-QUÉBEC’s Hélène Gervais to take action:

  • Seek to repair products
  • Donate them or sell them online or to someone you know
  • Buy second-hand items and appliances
  • Opt for reusable products
  • Rent rather than buy, particularly tools
  • Make sure you have access to replacement parts
  • Check the warranties offered
  • Shop local: this makes it easier to exchange or apply the warranty
  • Always ensure at least minimum maintenance: vacuum cleaner, toaster, and other appliances
  • Consult websites with video tutorials
  • Subscribe to the Facebook page Touski s’répare, a toolbox with more than 52,000 members
  • Ask yourself if you really need this new gadget
  • Send your terminally ill items to the eco-centre or in the recycling bin

Gervais recommends checking online for places where you can borrow tools or use self-repair facilities. Sometimes, some good-Samaritan volunteers even offer to help. “It’s both social and rewarding,” she says.

One thing you can be sure of is that, when it comes to obsolescence, today’s choices have a significant impact on tomorrow’s society.