Designing items that can be repaired far kinder on the environment in long run.

Nothing lasts forever, but having so many things either wear out, break or become obsolete shortly after you've bought them really grates on me.

From brittle plastic snaps to built-in batteries that give up the ghost and can't be replaced to smartphones costing well over a grand just two years ago, but which won't run the latest apps or get security updates. You're forced to replace the not-so-old gear rather than keep using it.

Even if it's possible to repair broken stuff, spare parts can cost so much and take a long time to arrive from overseas that it's cheaper to buy entirely new products instead. If you can get spare parts at all, that is.

Some manufacturers even actively try to prevent consumers from repairing the goods they paid for, using laws intended to protect intellectual property rights like the United States Digital Millennium Copyright Act or DMCA.


Germany's Institute for Applied Ecology is currently looking into whether the above amounts to what's known as planned obsolescence - that is, goods being made with weaknesses or defects, causing them to fail after a given amount of time.

Halfway through the study, the institute has yet to find evidence of deliberate, planned obsolescence but it did note that people replace electric and electronic goods much sooner these days than they did a few years ago.

Whereas cathode ray tube TVs lasted between 10 to 12 years between 2005 and 2012, flat screen sets were replaced in 2012 after just 5.6 years of first use, the institute found.

Not because they broke down in most cases, but because consumers wanted a new product.

I can think of several reasons why consumers would dump TV sets in perfect working order and buy new ones. New features, higher resolution screens, new broadcast standards, internet TV or even just looks. Lowered pricing and higher incomes drive the upgrade circle too.

Upgrading at short intervals isn't necessarily a bad thing, as it brings technological innovation and environmentally positive benefits.

Adding up the environmental impact of increased manufacturing and transportation probably pushes the whole thing into the red, and then there's the question of recycling the old stuff that nobody wants and which can't or won't be reused.

Truth is, few consumer things are designed to be recycled. Also, if it's nigh impossible to pull apart devices to recycle components in them, it's guaranteed not to happen and they'll end up as toxic landfill instead.


This is of course an untenable situation - it benefits large corporations which can lock consumers into never-ending upgrade cycles but it's extremely bad for the environment.

The tech industry is particularly bad in that respect. There are some half-hearted recycling schemes about but generally, not enough has happened for over a decade when the e-waste problem first reared its ugly head.

Recycling of electronics by and large means "dump it in China" where some of the waste is indeed reused, but at a tremendous cost to the environment.

A better idea would be to design things to last longer, recycle less and produce modular designs with open standards that allows for parts to be replaced and not the entire unit.

A semblance of complexity

Your smartphone is the wallet of the future, right?

But wait, before you can wave your smartphone over a contactless terminal, to pay with Semble, you need to do a few things.

First, make sure you have the right smartphone. Android only please; iOS is Apple Pay territory. Second, a new SIM is needed and you have a choice of 2 Degrees or Vodafone. The SIM card has to be activated as well.

Oh yes, you need the Semble app from Google Play as well and then you can start adding "eligible" ASB and BNZ bank cards to your phone. That's how convenient smartphone payments work.

Juha Saarinen is a tech blogger for