Quickly Obsolete

Examples of how electronics are “designed for the dump”

E-waste is the fastest growing part of the waste stream. That’s because we are buying new electronics at an astonishing rate and tossing out the old ones. New technology is constantly emerging making that old working gadget no longer desirable. Plus some electronic products simply don’t last as long as they should, and they are cheaper to replace than to fix. Plus new designs for thinner, smaller items (like smart phones, tablets, and ultrabooks) are making it really hard for people to fix and prolong the use of these devices.

How Industry Gets Us To Replace Working Gadgets

Industry plays an active role in getting us to replace working products with their new ones:

Cell phone upgrades

Cell phone companies typically allow free or very inexpensive upgrades every two years. Your cell phone carrier subsidizes the cost of the phone purchase if you sign a two year contract. This leads people to stop using working cell phones simply because there is something newer, possibly with more features. The “dead cell phone” drawer, with discarded phones, PDAs, and MP3 players, and a tangle of chargers and cords, is a common occurrence in homes.

Hardware failures

A recent report from Square Trade (an electronics warranty service company) shows that 24% laptops will fail in the first three years due to hardware malfunctions.

View the Square Trade laptop reliability report.

New Technology – Digital TV Conversion and HDTV

In 2009, broadcasters switched from analog to digital TV signal. Millions of Americans tossed out perfectly good, working analong TVs either because they don’t want to hassle with using a converter box on their old TV, or they want to view TV using the HDTV technology. TV company advertising boldly tells us we NEED to upgrade to HDTV. Sharp had an ad campaign in 2009 whose slogan is “Change your TV, change you life.” They even used the website of

Disposable printers

Did your last computer come with a “free” printer? Cheap consumer-grade printers have proliferated substantially over the last few years. They are sometimes cheaper than the toner. They don’t last long, and when they break, you’d never even think of getting it fixed (if you could find someone who would do it) because it’s so much cheaper to just buy a new one. Printer companies do this because they make more money on selling us their toner.

Software upgrades

Microsoft’s release of its VISTA operating system alone caused a spike in the e-waste stream. The new operating system simply couldn’t run on many older computers which lacked the memory or processing speed, leading those who wanted to keep up with the current platform to replace their computers.

Can’t change the battery

Most small electronics have rechargeable batteries, and after a certain point the batteries no longer hold a charge and need to be replaced. With some products, however, consumers can’t easily do that themselves and must take the product back to the manufacturer for a new battery. Many of Apple’s products are designed this way, including iPhones, iPods, laptops, iPads. Apple will replace your battery for a hefty fee but you must take or send it to them. (This is the point at which some people simply move on to a new product, especially for iPods.) Sometimes you can find a skilled geek who can also do this for you. Apple is also adept in getting its loyal customer base to constantly buy new gadgets. They keep releasing slightly different (and improved) versions of their iPods (classic, touch, nano, shuffle, etc).

By the way, if you want to know how to replace your Apple product batteries yourself, check out the easy to follow, repair it yourself manuals on the iFixit website.