A stack of eight iPhones
1 Hour

Your mission:

Raise awareness on what planned obsolescence is and what to do about it.


This subtle business strategy is the culprit of a lot of avoidable waste and production of more unnecessary plastic.

What you need to know:

Planned obsolescence is an economic and design decision where companies artificially limit how long their products last – increasing unnecessary waste and increasing consumption.

There are a few different kinds of planned obsolescence:

  1. Planned obsolescence of function: companies update the new product so the old product is no longer compatible or useful. E.g. A cell phone company creates a new charging port – cable that doesn’t work with old models
  2. Planned obsolescence of quality: companies intentionally design a product so that it breaks or wears out more quickly. E.g. a kitchen appliance company makes the on/off switch out of cheap plastic so that it breaks within 2 years, and is not repairable or replaceable.
  3. Planned obsolescence of desirability: A company repeatedly changes the style of the new product, and the old style is no longer sought out by consumers. E.g. a clothing company releases a new look many times a year, encouraging consumers to replace their clothing, even if it’s still functional, to keep up with the new trends that brands create.

What to do:
  1. Watch this video explaining a few examples of planned obsolescence.
  2. Find an example of planned obsolescence in your home or classroom.  
  3. Take a picture of the item being made obsolete. If you have the new item replacing the “old” one, take a picture of that too. 
  4. Tell someone you know about planned obsolescence and how to identify it, or post a picture of the item you identified on your social media account with a description of what planned obsolescence is and how to identify it.
What to watch out for:
  • It can be tricky to identify planned obsolescence. Sometimes we’re so used to it, that we don’t even see it as a problem. See if you can question your assumptions about what it means to shop, how things are marketed to you, and how to know the difference between “need a new one” and “want a new one”. 
  • When you are buying something new, analyze the product for signs of planned obsolescence, using the questions in the section below.
  • Be aware that quality items are more expensive upfront, but they can last much longer. Low quality items are generally cheaper, but it’s likely they won’t last as long, and so in the long term you’ll likely spend more money replacing the item. This is often an issue associated with inequity. For example a blue-collar day labor might not be able to afford the upfront expense for a pair of steel-toed boots that would last a long time, so they are stuck buying the inexpensive pair. But in the long run they end up spending more money, simply because they can’t afford the initial upfront cost of the long-lasting quality pair.
  • Look for items with a lifetime warranty, get them cheaper and create less waste by buying them second-hand.

Here are some ways to identify planned obsolescence. Ask yourself: 

  • Am I buying this just to stay up with the current trend?
  • Are there parts of this item that look like they’ll break really easily?
  • Is this product repairable? Does the company sell replacement parts or offer a repair program?
  • Is this product compatible with the rest of my system (mostly applicable to tech)?
Track Your Contribution To Solving Plastic Pollution:

Submit 1 Action Hour for approval: Complete the form below.

Cover image photo credit: Gabriel Freytez on Pexels.


Where to next?

Explore the lessons and actions that build off this one to continue on your journey to address the plastic problem!

Get Creative with Artivism

Teach your followers about planned obsolescence through a video or song.

Get Vocal on Social

Spread the word about planned obsolescence.


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