Planned Obsolescence: the economy, the environment and occupational safety.

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The term “Planned Obsolescence” means determining or planning the useful life of a product or service marked by the manufacturer in the design phase. Its origin dates back to the 30s of the last century when it was even proposed as a compulsory measure by law to end the Great Depression. Although the application as a legal measure was never implemented, this measure has been used and implemented since then by manufacturers in most products.

The first case of planned obsolescence was in the 20s with the imposition of the reduced number of hours in the lifespan of the incandescent bulb, lowering it to even below the life of the bulb invented by Edison.

This practice, both through the determination of the functional limited lifetime by the manufacturer as well as by means of the incitement of the voluntary desire to purchase (related to fashion, design, etc.), during the 20th century it has significantly contributed to economic, industrial and productive growth by encouraging (or forcing in some cases) consumerism. Nowadays, planned obsolescence can be seen in most products, but especially in technology and computers.

It is due to environmental effects and the lack of sustainability in this practice that detractors and movements not in favour have appeared. The most radical advocate due to the production decline and the less radical due to the redesign of the production to promote more sustainable production and a use that does not harm or affect the environment as much.

As an example, we find the environmental activist Mike Anane who denounces sending e-waste to Ghana from industrialized countries.

Or the visual effects company Big Lazy Robot that launched the animation short ” iDiots” that satirizes planned obsolescence.


On the other hand, manufacturers have appeared that are committed to eliminating programmed obsolescence or more sustainable production that reduces the impact on the environment.

The Spanish manufacturer of light bulbs OEP Electrics has placed on the market LED bulb technology without planned obsolescence, designed to last a lifetime (or at least 100 years) taking the idea from the light bulb of the Livermore fire station, which remains lit continuously for over 100 years.

Or the company Lemnis Lighting   (cofounded by Warner Philips, descendent of the bulb manufacturer Philips) which is the precursor of sustainable lighting with the creation and marketing of light bulbs with a duration of 25 years.

But we can also find planned obsolescence in occupational safety and health. What is, if not, the basis of preventive maintenance?.

In favour of both productivity and health and safety, a useful life for certain components of machines and equipment is established, so whether it still works or it is completely worn out, the component is replaced. In this way, equipment and machines are kept in working order, in addition to avoiding costly breakdowns and accidents or waste, whose consequences both productive and physical could become disastrous.

Everybody is aware that drivers who appreciate their vehicle and their own safety perform the corresponding periodic review (or change their tires) rather than wait for the inevitable damage that would appear as a result from a lack of maintenance.

Similarly, a date is set for the expiration of certain PPE (harnesses, helmets, etc), that although they still look functional, should be replaced since they do not give sufficient protection to the worker. In this case, the planned obsolescence is regulated, since   RD 1407/1992, which sets forth the conditions for the marketing of PPE, in point II of Annex 1.4.e in the brochure to be prepared and delivered by the manufacturer, must include the expiration date of the PPE or any of its components.


In the latter cases, planned obsolescence is not based on the increased commercialization of the product but rather on increasing user safety.


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