I was sitting on a bench in Pokhara, Nepal and a random stranger ask me what’s happening back in the UK. I was looking up the newspapers on my smart phone at the time to see what was happening and we had a random conversation that lead to various subjects including waste in the Environment and how when I was first an apprentice and then later in my 2nd job we built things to last and not be a throw away society.
This got me thinking as I am passionate about the plastics in our oceans, lakes and rivers etc, but wait there are other kinds of industrial waste e.g. the Electronic world, of TV, DVD players, radios, routers, computers etc. Once they have been obsoleted by the latest software upgrade that is so big, the older CPU processors cannot run the newest software. So what do we do throw it away, sell it, or just leave it in the cupboard and go and get a new one. This equally applies to TV and other electronics.
So why do we need to upgrade the software on the computer?, it was working fine when I last looked, and those new features how many of us really use them, probably less than 5% of users, so why do the manufacturers insist on these upgrades? Yes there are bugs that need fixing, but in most cases this is just a few lines of code that need altering to make that bug disappear. (why were they there in the first place?)
So where do these old electronics end up, mmmm good one, there are regulations in Europe to tell us we have to send then via authorized people to be dismantled and hopefully some of the parts reclaimed and used again, as there is silver, gold in these electronics, then what? I cannot answer that one at present.
Now think back to other items white goods, e.g washing machines, Toasters, Microwaves. When you buy them they really look nice, but in reality they are very flimsy pieces of metal containing low grade components that will expire just after your warranty expires, you may be lucky to get 2-3 years use out of these, but do not hold your breath. I ask myself why are the manufacturers doing this low grade work in such a well used appliance in your house?. OK it means in 2-3 years as the old ones breaks and is too expensive to replace so you buy another one.
Hang on a minute so for a small component that in reality costs a few pounds you have to throw out the whole item?
Does this make sense to you?, it does not to me.
For example when I was in manufacturing I built a hot soaking rack for some electronic drives and due to a very small error, I blew up the first prototype of the drives I was going to be testing in this rack item. I took it back to engineering and told then what I had done, they said they would look at it. I looked at my item I had built and see of there was something wrong with a connection some where to find out why I made it go bang. I checked all the connections and found one screw on an input wire was not correctly tighten down so would make the voltage fluctuate and surge the drive. I tighten this screw and reported back to engineering. I found out that there was a small design flaw that in most cases would not matter, but the engineering dept thanked me for finding it. They rectified this error by adding two extra components that cost less than £0.01 each. Now we had a better more reliable drive than before.
The point I am trying to make is we need to make small decisions like over engineering a component, instead of running at full capacity all the time, we need a component to run at 60-70% of the time. The result of this is that a product in your house lasts longer for a nominal additional small cost in manufacture. To be honest would you notice a price difference of say £297.99 or £299.99 for a washing machine. In reality no, but if they sold it on the promise that it would not go wrong (under normal circumstances) for an extra £2 you would pay it, or would take a gamble on a machine that may breakdown and you cost you a lot of money to repair plus your time off work to come and get someone to fix it.
There is an additional plus side to this idea by over engineering a product by a small amount. Instead of sending items every 2-3 years to be recycled we may only need to send an item once very 5-6 year may be more to be recycled. So this means 50% of the electronics, white good, cars, motorcycles, in fact anything are not being wasted, we save money. OK the manufacturers will be in uproar, but what are they really doing about this problem?, do we send the defunct items back to them for recycling?, No but to a third world country, who are poisoned by the toxic waste they are producing, as there are TV programs showing the dangerous conditions these items are stripped and recycled just for the valuable parts e.g. gold, silver and other precious metals etc. What happens to the other items they are probably sent to landfill and thus will be there in thousands of years time.
Also when a manufacturer shows a new series of TV or any product, why do we need 2-3 different versions of the same thing? – all with a few variations and the price difference is vast sometime, and do I really want or need that extra feature that only a few users want. No, the marketing department says you need it via the glossy ads and blurb in brochures. They were selling TV with things that are not even available to the general public yet and would not be for a few years be commercially available if at all, so why are you selling this features we cannot use? . In reality the only big change for example in the TV world was going from an analog signal to digital and then a set top box sorted this out and we did not have to change the whole TV, we just added a box.
By over engineering a product by 10% or more us consumers get a better product, the manufacture get a more loyal client base. There are less negative comments about faulty products (think of the dryers that are catching fire at present and costing lives and homes).
This I believe is penny pinching at the design stage, the engineer says I want to put this extra item in it’s going to cost an extra £1 but will make a better product, the Finance people say, NO, we want people to buy more of our products so put the cheaper component in it will fail more often and we make more money by customer buying more goods. The marketing company see no reason to put this in as it still does the function it was designed to do. The quality control/customer relations is inundated with complaints about faulty products and this alone costs you more in one phone call than the extra £1 the engineer wanted to spend in the first place. So you now have to increase the price to £309.99 to cover these additional costs and the consumer looses out on multiple levels.
The consumer is the one who looses out, as they have to get the item repaired, and replaced at their cost (as it is probably just out of warranty), take time off work to allow repair or delivery of a new item. The consumer is now dissatisfied this this supplier and therefore not brand loyal and will look for a more reliable product and will spend that extra £2 (from above) to get a better product. This is all for the engineer spending an extra £1 at the design stage (he should have just put it in and not told anyone).
The downside is that the environment looses out, as it has to deal with an extra item to recycle.
So a message to all manufacturers please make better products, but over engineering by at least 10% preferably more, as it is your children, grandchildren and future generation that will have to deal with the toxic things you are producing now for the sake of a few pennies.
I quote this link from Popular mechanics and the fuel tank problem that would have cost a measly $11 to fix on the price of a car, but it cost Ford a lot more than that
So why are we doing this on our disposable electronics (Penny Pinching) as this has a larger reach than you think, as it can and does affect the 7 billions people on this planet in some way, with the toxic waste we are producing with the sky high piles of electronics items in landfills, and scrap yards around the world.
I believe that we should send the faulty items direct to the manufacturer to deal with then they make take notice and design a better product with less environmental impact. They may claim to have a good record at recycling at the plant, but what about the faulty and out of date items that are lying all around the world , have the manufacturers forgotten all about these now? I bet you they have and we the consumer and the planet is paying the price.