Imagine a law that ensures products last for years and don’t wear out too soon. A world where products can be easily repaired. A society free of obsolescence—or almost. Like to join us in drafting provisions for this law?
READY? LET’S GO!
If we want to curb obsolescence, the law should focus not just on manufacturers and retailers, but consumers, too, as they all have an influence on a product’s durability, at different stages of its lifecycle. The law could therefore consider the manufacturing, marketing, use and end-of-life phases of products.
Time for some blue-sky thinking!
...We could extend the warranty to encourage manufacturers to make products more robust and therefore more durable.
A toaster that gradually wears out and comes with us when we move would be great, don’t you think?
**In Quebec, the Consumer Protection Act provides a warranty on all goods you purchase (1). It says products must be good quality, durable and match their description, and it protects consumers against hidden defects. It’s a start! The warranty period depends on the product type and quality, and what is considered to be a “reasonable” lifespan. A product must be usable for normal use for a reasonable length of time. If not, you can present a claim.
A “reasonable length of time” is open to interpretation, so an information kit has been developed to shed light on the matter (2).
**In France, the standard warranty period was extended from 6 months to 2 years in 2015 (3).
...We could inform consumers of products’ useful life before they buy to help them make the best decision, in the same way that the Energy Star label informs you about the energy consumption of household appliances.
In Quebec, no such measure has been adopted.
In Europe, it’s still on the drawing board but was the focus of a European Commission report. The mean time between failures (MTBF) is a measure used by the industry to describe a product’s reliability, so why don’t we use it as a benchmark? Depending on the type of product, it could also indicate the average number of uses. For example, the sticker you see on a washing machine in the store could tell you the average number of washes it will do.
...We could punish manufacturers who use schemes to deliberately limit the useful life of products.
No such legislation exists in Quebec.
Since 2015, practising planned obsolescence in France has carried a penalty of 300,000 euros and two years’ imprisonment. In September, French association Halte à l’Obsolescence Programmée [Stop planned obsolescence] filed a complaint against four printer manufacturers for putting machines on the market that stop working after an abnormally short time.
...We could ensure that repairing products saves you money, and that it costs less to repair something than to replace it.
In Quebec, no such measure exists yet.
In Sweden, as of January 1, 2017, the VAT (value added tax) on repairs was slashed from 25% to 12%. In addition, half the cost of home appliance repairs can be claimed as tax-deductible. So, it now costs Swedes less to get their bike, clothes, fridge or washing machine repaired.
...We could encourage reuse of parts.
No legal measure has been implemented in Quebec, but thanks to the Association of Auto Part Recyclers in Quebec (ARPAC) (4), you can get your vehicle repaired with Green Recycler PartsTM from recycled cars or trucks.
In France, new consumer legislation (5) obliges repairers to offer customers a choice between new parts and recycled ones.
...We could encourage companies to manage the waste generated by products they manufacture or distribute. This would provide incentives to improve their environmental impact.
In Quebec, the extended producer responsibility (EPR) principle was implemented in 2011. EPR makes businesses responsible for managing the waste generated by products they put on the market, requiring them to help fund recovery and reclamation programs (6). Waste reduction at source and eco-design are central to EPR. Targeted products include electronics, batteries, paint, mercury-containing light bulbs and oils.
The European Union and Quebec are at about the same place. But France is leading the way when it comes to the scope of application.
...We could implement the “polluter pays” principle through a pay-by-weight or pay-by-bag system.
This measure is already in effect in many municipalities in Canada and abroad but social acceptability in Quebec is still low.
This brief review of existing mechanisms indicates that a legal framework is gradually being built to deal with planned obsolescence. And the good news is Europe is ahead of us on these issues, so we can get inspiration from initiatives already in place!
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>>> Next post (December 15): Are We All To Blame for Obsolescence? <<<
Read the first post, ”Obsolescence and the Throwaway Culture are Standing in the Way of Responsible Consumption”, published on October 15.
(1) http://legisquebec.gouv.qc.ca/en/showdoc/cs/P-40.1(sections 34 to 54)
(2) https://www.opc.gouv.qc.ca/en/consumer/topic/purchase/phone-mail/warranty/legal-warranties/ - package
(5) https://tinyurl.com/y7dhhrvn article L.121-117 du code de la consommation en France