World Recycling Day : Putting an end to planned obsolescence



Have you ever wondered why your cellphone, which is barely a year old, is now old news? Or why repairing it costs more than replacing it? This is called planned obsolescence, and it is one of the most crucial environmental scourges of our time.
Since the 1930s, planned obsolescence has resulted in products designed not to last. This phenomenon, which was supposedly coined after World War II to boost industry growth and generate profit in the short term, has become the manufacturing standard in many industries. Today, as the planet’s resources dwindle, nothing has changed. Today, as the planet’s resources dwindle, nothing has changed. Burning through finite raw materials faster than the planet can regenerate to meet demand and creating massive CO2 emissions and other pollution, the societal cost of obsolescence is alarmingly high.

But my Good Sir, we recycle! So, we can sleep soundly, right? Well, while recycling is better than throwing away, it isn’t as pure as the driven snow. Recycling means that resources have already been extracted, energy has been expended to manufacture the object in question and even more energy will be spent to recycle it. The key to a more sustainable future is to finally put an end to planned obsolescence and to embrace sustainable production and the circular economy. During the World summit on sustainable mobility, Movin’On, leaders and experts share some of the best practices to get there.

Change business models (now!)

Historically, entreprises have been working upstream and downstream rather than linearly. Rethinking business models is about collaborating and always keeping in mind what has come before and what will come next. The circular economy is about dematerialization by design, making products intended to be reused or maintained.

Making obsolescence obsolete, industry by industry

·       Aviation: Planes are now made to last 30 years and can be constantly maintained. Michelin even sells “landings” as a service, maintaining tires for 60 landings before replacement.

·       Telecommunications: Orange adopted a circular economy model with circular loops in their service delivery chain such as server virtualization and modular design. The telecoms company works with the International Telecommunication Union to analyze the nature of its suppliers’ specifications and collaboratively drive an entire ecosystem towards the circular economy.

·       Global equipment suppliers: Automotive supplier Valeo’s practices revolve around three solutions: ecodesign, remanufacturing and dematerialization of certain components.

·       The chemical industry: Solvay uses silica to enhance tire performance by decreasing CO2 rolling resistance.


Encourage “consum-actors”

“Consum-actors” are consumers who invest in sustainability by requesting more product information and research from industry and government. A new circular business model can help consumers change the market, but this requires education.

Consumers also need to be encouraged to manage the life cycles of the products they own, too. Manufacturers must harmonize standards, and factor in consumer trends and regulations that affect them.


“Do not doubt the consumers, the market is ready. Consumers want sustainable, repairable products.” – Laetitia Vasseur, President and Co-Founder, HOP (Halte à l’Obsolescence Programmée)

Types of planned obsolescence

·       Hardware: materials degrade, products no longer work.

·       Software: no longer updated or supported, accelerating the need for renewal.

·       Aesthetic: marketing and design force consumers to change products even if the original product still functions.


Planned obsolescence is now an offence punishable by imprisonment in France.

The circular economy has piqued your interest? Mobility at the time of circular economy is one of the six subject areas to be tackled at Movin’On 2018, May 30-June 1, 2018, in Montréal. This article was excerpted from the Movin’On 2017 Minutes.