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Built not to last: How Spain is addressing 'programmed obsolescence'
10 September 2021 @ 19:47

NOW that Germany has become the first European country to tackle 'programmed obsolescence' head on, neighbouring countries look set to follow suit – and Spain has already started, albeit tentatively.

The term 'programmed obsolescence' basically means that electronics and electrical appliances are deliberately designed to stop fulfilling their function, or stop working at all, after a set length of time, so consumers are forced to buy new ones – a way of keeping the corporations who manufacture them in constant profit.

It is not always just a case of newer, trendier models hitting the shelves which customers buy because they are embarrassed to admit they still have an 'old one' – in the example of mobile phones, their functions are constantly upgraded so as to cease working on earlier models, meaning those who still want to use these have to buy new ones and, as these new phones become the majority in circulation, the programmes that work on them become more and more mainstream.

An example of this is the messenger service WhatsApp, which stops working and 'self-destructs' on phones over a certain age every few months; if the majority of one's social and professional circle uses WhatsApp to communicate, it means the owner has to choose between being left out or buying a new phone so as to carry on using it.

The average consumer buys a new mobile every 18 months, but they should be able to last at least 12 years (photo: Tecnomarí Barcelona)

Another form of 'programmed obsolescence' is where an appliance or device begins to malfunction after a certain age, and either the cost of repair exceeds that of buying new, or nobody can be found to repair it due to its complexity or lack of parts available.

And according to one of Spain's leading consumer protection organisations, the OCU, over 60% of faults and breakages with mobile phones in particular happen within the first two years.

This is fine if they are covered by guarantee – which is a minimum of two years, by law – but the most common problems, such as a faulty USB port, are likely to be outside the terms of this.

Germany has now made it a legal requirement for all devices to be repairable and parts available at a lesser cost than replacement, and software upgrades to enable Apps to function, for at least seven years.

In fact, the European Commission, when reviewing the environmental issue of 'programmed obsolescence' – the massive amounts of electronic waste piling up, and the damage to the planet from mining for new materials – stated that the hardware of a mobile phone should be able to survive up to 25 years and, if parts for repairs and software upgrades were available, would be able to continue to function fully for a minimum of 12 years.


What is Spain doing about it?

So far, Spain has not taken Germany's bold move, but has sought to warn consumers and help them make informed choices when buying.

A little-known new law introduced in March this year means all electrical appliances and electronics on sale are required to carry a 'repairability label', giving them a mark out of 10 for how easy, cheap or otherwise they are to fix if they go wrong.

Also, consumers must now be given the option to repair if this exists, and have a right to do so if they wish...



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