Skip to navigation Skip to content

Report and study

Obsolescence of home appliances and electronics

What is the role of the consumer?

Published on 

Alarmed by the phenomenon of overconsumption, Équiterre made a commitment in its 2017-2020 strategic plan to tackle the issue of obsolescence of consumer goods.

Excessive consumption has significant impacts on the environment, human health and our economy. This report represents the first step in a reflection that will lay the groundwork for a campaign to fight obsolescence. In addition to providing an up-to-the-minute portrait of Canadians' understanding of the phenomenon of obsolescence and of the causes for the premature replacement of HAEs, it recommends concrete solutions for extending their lifespan for citizens, companies and government.

Obsolescence vs planned obsolescence

In order to avoid polarizing debates and to emphasize the issue of shared responsibility for the phenomenon, Équiterre has chosen to focus the debate on the simple notion of obsolescence rather than on planned obsolescence.

Canada-wide study on obsolescence

Équiterre unveiled on May 24, 2018 the findings of the first Canada-wide study on obsolescence and the tendency of Canadian consumers to replace their household appliances and electronics (HAEs) prematurely.

The study was conducted jointly with several partners specializing in responsible consumption, social accountability and the sharing economy, including RECYC-QUÉBEC, France’s Halte à l’obsolescence programmée (HOP), Option consommateurs and the Consumers Council of Canada. The Observatoire de la consommation responsable (OCR) was commissioned to conduct the research on which this study is based.

The study and its methodology

As part of this study, Équiterre:

  • conducted a review of the literature;
  • identified over 80 promising initiatives related to the fight against obsolescence;
  • carried out a survey of a representative sample of thousands of Canadians on their understanding and behaviour with regards to obsolescence;
  • identified several potential solutions.

Study highlights

  • 80% of respondents purchased their appliances or devices new, suggesting a low propensity for reuse;
  • 86% of respondents said that HAEs are deliberately designed to have a short lifespan;
  • Less than half of consumers are conscious of the role they play in the phenomenon of obsolescence;
  • Few respondents keep their appliances beyond what they consider to be their reasonable lifespan;
  • Nearly 1 in 5 consumers can be described as being "excessive," having acquired 5 or more devices in the time period studied. The typical profile is that of a man whose average age is younger than the other respondents (46 years), who is an owner and has a relatively high income;
  • Only 19% of respondents reported making repairs to their products in the case of home appliances, compared to 26% for electronics;
  • Marketing strategies designed by companies, such as promotions, loyalty programs and changes to plan features, can have a significant influence on obsolescence.

Équiterre received funding from Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada’s Contribution Program for Non-profit Consumer and Voluntary Organizations. Thank you also to RECYC-QUÉBEC.

To read the full report and its appendices.