Our whole lives are now a ‘light bulb conspiracy’
- Credit: Archant
Nick Conrad says companies deliberately don't make good that last - so that we will keep buying them
It's maddening in a world filled with toxic waste, over spilling landfill sites and diminishing resources, that we don't manufacture things that last. Just consider the tonnes of technology, household machines and devices that get binned rather than repaired.
We love to talk about a war on waste…but sadly we are absolutely addicted to it.
Recently a friend purchased a washing machine. Having installed the machine, it started to rumble like a jet engine. Having shelled out £350 on the new unit he wasn't best pleased. A technician was summoned, but the grim reaper of white goods proclaimed the device deceased after a quick look. The unit was removed, and I hope it was taken apart to be recycled - but that is not a given. Here is the sad truth…it is cheaper for these companies to replace the unit rather than repair it. Things just aren't as durable as they used to be.
When I was young my family had a car (Toyota Space Cruiser) with more lives than a cat! That beast never died, but routinely did breakdown. It was a machine in all senses of the word and it finally conked out when my parents decided the inconvenience of calling the mechanic outweighed the outlay for a new car. But why have we had this shift in attitude towards binning things when they start to malfunction?
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Simply, it ensures our economy grows. Ever heard of the 'lightbulb conspiracy?' These shocking theories claim that companies routinely ensure products have a shelf life, meaning we need to replace them. In turn this guarantees the continued need for their company's goods.
The longest running light bulb in the world, which has burned continuously for over 110 years, can be found in California. Initially, bulbs were built to last. But there is historical evidence revealing how a cartel in the 1920s decided to produce bulbs limited to a maximum life of 1000 hours, making the humble light bulb one of the first examples of planned obsolescence and a model for increasing profits on other products.
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Do you remember the nylon stockings which would never get a ladder? Posters in the 40s hailed the wonder stocking…apparently these also largely disappeared from shelves after profits dipped.
So, we are being pushed into this consumer cycle ensuring the profit of big companies, whilst racking up personal debt on credit cards to afford items. Well, we should unite as consumers and challenge this. We should not stand idly by as the world fills with trash. We need to reverse this bonkers trend and put a greater emphasis on recycling and durability.
I bet most of you had clothes passed down from child to child? Our clothes weren't tatty, and they were often years old. I remember my grandmother buying durable shoes. We had a TV that lasted throughout the whole of my childhood. Fridges that seemed to run forever…the list goes on. And now, we have things that break on us constantly. And sadly, crazily, we need them to. But we need to break this toxic cycle. I fear the only way to ensure this is to limit consumer spending and access to goods thus promoting durability as a sales pitch.
Of course, any change in consumer attitude is economically sensitive. Our insistence on buying new goods protects jobs, innovation and keeps factories open. If we went back to a culture of 'make-do-and-mend' the Treasury and big business would suffer. But that day is coming. We need a new generation of consumers, designers and business people who stand ready to challenge planned obsolescence as an unsustainable economic driver. In short, now is the time to accept the only people desperate for us to 'keep up with the Jones' are the fat cats who need you to buy their goods to make sure they stay rich!