Stack of thrown away smartphones

Replacing goods too soon costs environment

Consumer goods replaced “before their time” are creating an environmental headache, says a report published by the UN Environment Programme.

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Laptops and mobile phones are among the products flagged as being replaced too soon.

A life cycle analysis of laptops cited by the report calculates “optimal” replacement time to be at least 7 years, but the average period of use is just 4 years.

The rush to replace products isn’t just driven by new gadgets landing on the market. Actions taken by companies that shorten a product’s life mean goods end up being thrown out in rapid order and “lock in” consumers to wasteful consumption, the report says.

Software upgrades for phones that don’t work on older models have been flagged as one reason consumers may ditch their device before its functional life is up.

The environmental impacts associated with the manufacture of tech products means extending their useful life should be a given. Mobile phones, for example, contain precious metals – gold and silver – as well as rare earth elements, and their extraction can come at a high environmental cost.

Product lifetime labelling, which requires manufacturers to disclose how long a product will last, is among the report’s recommendations. Lifetime labelling has already been mandated in France to clamp down on planned obsolescence.

A recent OECD review of New Zealand’s environmental performance criticised the lack of regulations for tackling our growing waste mountain.

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