TOPIC – Consumer undurables

“EU has enacted a ‘right to repair’. But there is no law to regulate the love of the new and shiny”

The problem with consumer durables is that they aren’t all that durable. The warranty runs out in a year, and then — in India at least — either a neighbourhood repairman does his best to fix the inevitable breakdowns, or the kabadiwala takes the product off your hands. In Europe — and much of the First World — these options are not as readily available. And more importantly, discarded televisions, refrigerators, washing machines, etc are adding to the growing problem of e-waste, continuing the almost irreparable harm to the environment that a culture of consumerism has caused. The European Union has enacted, for this reason, a “right to repair” under which companies will be required to ensure that spare parts are available for their products for at least 10 years. The EU law hits at “planned obsolescence” — companies ensure that their products are made from components that don’t last long, to get repeat customers. In some cases (and the law allows for these), technologies may become genuinely obsolete: For example, air conditioners that use less power and CFCs or more fuel-efficient cars. But forcing the purchase of new goods has led to a pressure on wallets and the environment that is now untenable. The next step, according to EU officials, is to extend the ambit of the law to cover IT hardware — cellphones, laptops and the like — which are responsible for a large amount of e-waste. Apple is already facing a lawsuit from Deco Proteste, a private consumer organisation from Portugal, over the planned obsolescence of the iPhone 6. The EU law aims to address the supply-side greed that makes big business sell people things that go kaput. But the other problem with a culture of consumerism is the consumer. Why, pray, do people need a “smart fridge”? Or a new phone which is exactly like the old but pretends not to be? The most durable thing is not the product, but the consumer’s desire for the new and shiny.