How long should products last? Cheap goods that wear out quickly are clearly bad for the environment. However, sometimes even expensive products can have a short lifespan (companies like Apple have made a business out of releasing regular new versions of their shiny gadgets). Would it be better if warranties were a bit longer? Might that convince manufacturers to make products that really last?

EU law currently provides a minimum 2-year consumer guarantee for products (though some countries have longer national minimum guarantees). Is there a case for extending that to 5 years?

What do our readers think? We had a comment sent in from Ellen who thinks we should all be consuming less and recycle more. Would longer product guarantees help us achieve that goal?

To get a response, we spoke to Cosima Dannoritzer, a filmmaker and director of The Light Bulb Conspiracy, a documentary investigating companies who engineer their products to fail as part of planned obsolescence. What would she say about the idea of longer warranties?

I think longer warranty spans could really help to improve the quality of some products. But I’m not sure a blanket long warranty span which is the same for everything would really be the answer for all types of products.

For instance, I think it would work for potentially quite durable products, like chairs or tables or things like that. However, if you think of electronics, technology evolves and it evolves sometimes faster than every five years. At the same time, that’s the kind of industry where products have the biggest ‘ecological rucksack’, which includes all the toxic byproducts that are produced while the products are actually being manufactured, so we actually should really make the most of those products.

Therefore, I would actually suggest a sort of combined approach of longer warranty spans whilst also maximising repairability. We should make sure, for instance, that spare parts are available for longer; ensure that people feel they have a ‘right to repair’, and make sure you can actually open the product – because some warranties don’t even allow products to be opened or they will break the warranty. We want people to be allowed to open the product, and that’s also a design issue.

It would also be a good idea to promote, in some way, the notion that things can be updated, so if a computer is not totally up-to-date anymore after 2-3 years, then we can upgrade it without replacing it. And, last but not least, I think it’s important also to make sure that recycling is fully supported, that we can take products apart, that the different parts can go nicely into the system, that all types of materials can be separated nicely and the manuals for doing that are available.

Next up, we had a comment from Rumy, who is concerned that if products have longer lifespan then it might might “kill” industries. He asks, pointedly: “What are you planning to do with the jobless people as a result of this?”

To get a response to Rumy’s criticism, we spoke to Stefan Sipka, Environmental Policy Analyst at the European Policy Centre, a Brussels-based EU policy think tank. What would he say about the economic cost of extended product guarantees? And, in addition, what would he say to the argument that shorter product lifespans might hurt innovation (especially when it comes to technology)?

Should all products have a five-years guarantee? Or are some products more suitable for extended guarantees? What might be the economic cost (and environmental benefit) of longer product lifespans? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

IMAGE CREDITS: BigStock – (c) BodnarPhoto


23 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar
    Rob

    Scrapping built in obsolescence would be a start!

    • avatar
      Debating Europe

      Do you think there should be laws to prevent that, Rob?

    • avatar
      Rob

      yes and there probably are. Loopholes are easily manipulated by legal experts.

  2. avatar
    Drogeanu

    …fiability must be again a key design term..

  3. avatar
    Nadine

    That lightbulb conspiarcy is really eye-opening! its crazy what companies do to make more money, and how dumbb consumers are for falling for their marketing tricks – (yes I am looking at you, person who buys every newest I-Phone edition…). It would be quite funny if it wouldnt contribute to destroying our planet!

  4. avatar
    Wasim

    Good question, and I find it much better a life time return policy, in which the company set much longer term for device, during each step of that period the customer allowed to return it for a certain percentage of original price, for example after five years they might able to get 25% of their cash back
    However it needs experts to determine that percentage in which the manufacturer don’t lose money neither consumers
    You see, manufacturers can always benefit from old devices in different way not just recycling but also reusing some of its part in producing the next generation device, ====> which will reduce the cost of new products ====> and save the environment from unnecessary waste
    You might say there is but two obstacles :
    One the future price of device is too law to even consider, take eBay used electronic products purchase system, that offer you a very tiny price for your used product
    I say: as it’s true, however as i mentioned the device even if it’s old and used still has its value for manufacturers, beside you can compare it to that ebay thing but in a better value (as we are talking about the original manufacturer retrieve not a commercial company), so it should be worthful
    Second obstacles : would even the consumer care to resell it for a cheap price in later time? Well we are counting on smart consumer who set time table in which at certain time he will decide to upgrade its current devices before it lose that value
    How is my idea different than warranty itself?
    You see warranty has its own risk for manufacturers and even can bring huge loses (the longer it is), beside it required humans experts to diagnose the problem and solve it and sometimes even replace the device at whole, much effort for minus value to a company, how such policy would allow the customer just to give up on his device at much later time and get a real benefit of it and enable him to reinvest that money in upgrading to new one and enable the manufacturer to reduce cost, save environment… Etc
    I don’t know, just a Spontaneously personal idea, it might holds flaws, i admit in advance

  5. avatar
    Ricardo

    Depending on cost… Why buy a £50 pounds product with 5 years warranty? But 1 year is a joke… Minimum should be 2 years, then above 200, 3 years, and go on… More expensive, has to work longer… No?

  6. avatar
    Michael

    The very fast deterioration of consumer products should definitely be addressed by regulatory measures. I am not sure if extending mandatory guarantees is necessarily the best solution, though. We must expect that if mandatory guarantees are extended further, manufacturers will just raise prices and may continue abusive practices anyway. A gaurantee is essentially an insurance policy, and when obligated to offer them, sellers price in the cost of the guarantee in the retail price. Remember that returning a product is a hassle, and even when we are entitled to do so, many people will avoid the hassle and buy new anyway.
    For some products I think it is entirely reasonable to expect they should last longer. LED light bulbs, for example. I’ve had some of them last no longer than two months, as if they were incandescent bulbs, which is absolutely absurd. Whether due to planned obsolescence or shoddy manufacturing, it is unacceptable and should not be tolerated.
    For mobile telephones, and a host of similar products that work with rechargeable batteries, the battery itself is usually the problem. There is a legitimate issue there with the longevity of lithium-ion batteries. The problem is manufacturers are making it deliberately difficult to replace the batteries without replacing the entire device or paying the manufacturer to do it.
    In the US in the past there was a “right to repair”, which required manufacturers to design products in such a way that consumers or third party repair shops could repair them. This was scrapped as opposition to government regulation became increasingly extreme, with the result being the spectacle of single-use items we have today.
    Here in Spain (I’m not sure if it’s the same everywhere in Europe) while we have the standard 2 year European guarantee for new products, we only have a 3 month guarantee for repairs! This is clearly geared towards encouraging people not to repair.
    So I would say there we should take at least these 3 measures:
    1. There should be a longer minimum guarantee *for repairs* – at least 1 year, or even 2 years for repairs, to put them on par with the guarantee for new products.
    2. We should have a “right to repair”.
    3. We should require all batteries to be housed in readily accessible compartments, where they can be easily replaced by consumers.

    • avatar
      Fei

      Agree. For some electronic products, only a tiny part is problematic, but you have to replace the whole thing becoz you can’t find repairs / the repair fee is too high after the guarantee.
      It’s really a shame. And it’s bad for the environment.

  7. avatar
    Olivier

    But you back this kind of behavior with low custom duty with China, and South East Asia… Few days ago with Mexico to import low quality meat…

    • avatar
      Olivier

      Indeed, these issues are interconnected. Would you want the EU to change something about the influx of low-quality products?

    • avatar
      Olivier

      yes I want Europe to slow down the free trade policy… Increase customs duty on low quality products change the European competition policy to boost relocation and allow European companies to merge freely to compete on international market…
      EU should stop backing companies to delicate to labour low cost countries and should build a social common policy to avoid competition disruption

  8. avatar
    Jean-Marc

    To guarantee a long time it takes a high quality that is directly related to the price the higher the quality is the higher the price! and as every person buys with their wallet that is not good for sure! some people couldn’t buy a machine and like now almost everything works with that I’ll let you understand the problem! after that said the current computer even first price hard 5 years without any problems! electronics work what doesn’t work in general it’s the Windows operating system so not that Windows works well it works very well! The user is something else he uses his computer like his washing machine or refrigerator! No maintenance no protection! The real problem is not on the computer but between the chair and the keyboard!

  9. avatar
    EU Reform-Proactive

    No!

    Rigid rules over all “consumer products” would be silly= unnecessary= wasteful! The latest tech gadgets are outdated after one to a few years!

    Free market economy vs. Command economy! Be careful what you wish for!

    If one falls into the trap by saying yes to this question- one supports (parts) of a “Command Economy”= giving up one’s “Consumer Sovereignty”! Similar as handing over one’s “National Sovereignty” to a Suzerain like the EU- or creating communist societies like China, North Korea & Cuba.

    Our current economic system subscribes generally to the “Free Market principle”. What is a responsible & sustainable way out of this dilemma?

    Surely not A 5-year “command guarantee”!

    https://futureofworking.com/6-advantages-and-disadvantages-of-the-command-economy/

    • avatar
      EU Reform-Proactive

      To add:
      Besides the political aspect of such a question, there are the many practical, economic, & financial ones to address as well.

      The theories about product design, its economic & financial life (tax allowances & write-downs) of all goods & machines produced for the “free market” (=consumers) are informing the different built-in warranties given by local & global manufacturers. Competitiveness remains another factor!

      Any sensible discussion would require more time & depth- not a simple yes or no, nor rushing questions one per day to accumulate bulk info for the EU Suzerain. Not too meaningful!

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Service_life

  10. avatar
    Sonja

    Better yet, subsidize built-in-home country companies to make products $on-par or $cheaper than cheaply inferior products. So countries can make better quality stuff and keep it in their country and benefit economically from their own industry. 5 year guarantees…on a car, on a computer, on a printer, on a fridge or stove? How about 20 or 30 year. Can you imagine how little waste we’d make then? Parts would be cheaper than new. 5 year is not long enough. 5 year on a backpack, maybe ;)

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