Binned before their time: Are we replacing products too early?
This means that some of the things we buy are thrown out and replaced earlier than they have been designed to last. In turn, this leads to more waste and more materials being used. In a similar sense, some manufacturers do not make products to last, opting for lower-quality materials and designs. But at a lower price point, consumers can replace them regularly without hurting their bank accounts, but is this at the expense of our climate?
As the UK is becoming aware of the environmental impact of consumerism and waste, here, we explore the products we throw away before their time. Reviewing this, we’ll consider how to aid the public in their journey towards sustainable shopping and how to recycle or reuse their old products.
These days, it seems that our mobile phones are attached to us. Their usefulness has grown, allowing us to play games, shop, and take pictures, as well as make calls and texts. But continual upgrades with extra cameras, sensors, and capabilities mean that consumers are always vying for the latest model every year.
While a mobile phone is expected to last up to five years, consumers tend to only keep their device for around two to three years. This means that phones are replaced only halfway through their life span.
There are a few reasons why this could happen. Firstly, mobile phone contracts usually last for this amount of time. Mobile phone providers may offer incentives to get a new phone after the contract expires. Secondly, consumer pressure to upgrade to obtain new capabilities, such as improved cameras or internet, may encourage users to ditch their old phones sooner than they need to. Finally, mobile phones can begin to slow after a few years or their battery life reduce; however, they can still be used.
Fortunately, consumers tend to trade in mobile phones, contributing to the circular economy. This allows other people to buy older models and continue their use. Still, the best practice should be for consumers to use mobile phones for as long as possible to reduce waste and the use of rare-earth metals used in their production. By ensuring these items are recycled if no longer serviceable, means we can protect valuable resources.
How often do you have a wardrobe refresh? A study in Denmark found that clothing was usually thrown away after 5.4 years. However, on average, the clothes had only been actively worn for 4 years. This means that clothes could have an extra 1.4 years of use before being thrown away or recycled.
Worryingly, the study found eight per cent of clothes thrown away are completely unworn.
Waste is a large problem for the fashion industry. Globally, 92 million tons of textile waste is created by the industry, while over 100 billion garments are made every year. Furthermore, cheaper materials such as polyester, nylon, and acrylic have damaging effects on the environment due to their slow decomposition. As landfills are filling up with our clothing, are we throwing away our clothes too quick? Or are we burning them in Energy from Waste plants and therefore requiring virgin materials to create new textiles?
Consumers should have access to natural materials and higher quality goods. While they may be more expensive, their long-lasting nature can rebalance the extra costs. Furthermore, when a garment is no longer fashionable or has completed its use, it can be donated or recycled. Some manufacturers offer store credit for returns. Even better, keep it in storage. Old fashion trends always return.
Computers are key to our working lives. However, like with phones, we may be looking to replace our laptops and desktops a little too early.
A good computer should last for around 6.5 years, yet the average use of a computer is only 2.5 years. This means that computer owners will likely bin or sell on their device only 40 per cent through its lifetime.
This is likely due to technological advancements, where users desire fast processors to complete work speedily. About one in three UK workers did some work at home in the past year, meaning that they require technology to connect with their teams and complete their work. However, with a high turnover of computers, we must ensure that when their use expires that they are repaired or recycled. Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE recycling) is key for businesses to ensure that their environmental impact is limited when disposing of electrical goods such as IT equipment.
We should ensure that computers are not thrown away before their time. Whether at home or work, we can try and deal with a slow computer for a little longer to help avoid creating waste. Positive steps are usually made by manufacturers, who will accept their old products to be recycled. This is typically true for white good appliances. However, new legalisation will encourage consumers to repair their products before they are thrown out and replaced. The right to repair will allow consumers to access spare parts, aiming to extend the life of your devices by up to ten years. But could the right to repair extend beyond white goods and apply to our other devices and products at home?
Our day-to-day lives are filled with products that will one day go to waste. However, not all this waste has to go to landfills and have a heavy environmental impact. Instead, we should ensure that we get full use of our devices, vehicles, and clothes through repair and maintenance, before selling them or recycling them to sustain the circular economy.