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Consumer goods see shorter lifespan

News, 05 March 2015

FREIBURG: European consumers are now replacing their flat screen TVs much more frequently than before and a similar, though less pronounced, trend is happening with white goods, according to initial findings of an environmental study.

Amid concerns about whether there may be poor use of resources in Europe, the German Federal Environmental Agency commissioned the Oeko Institut to investigate "first-use duration" of various types of household goods.

Covering the period 2004-2012, the study sought to establish whether devices are being replaced even if they're still functioning, if this was because of consumer behaviour, or whether manufacturers are deliberating shortening the lifespan of their products – a concept known as "built-in obsolescence".

Although the full study will not be published until later this year, initial findings suggest there is no firm evidence at this stage of built-in product weaknesses, and this will be examined in greater detail in the second half of the study.

However, there has been a marked increase in the number of TVs being replaced.

More than 60% of functioning flat screen TV were replaced for an upgrade in 2012, but only a quarter (25%) of purchases were made to replace a faulty product.

The average age for a TV being replaced was only 5.6 years, the report found, whereas the average duration of old-style TVs from 2005 to 2012 was between 10 and 12 years.

"Today, more electrical and electronic devices are being replaced even if they are still functioning," said Rainer Griesshammer, an executive board member at the Oeko Institut.

"Technological advances are often the trigger – we see this happening a lot with televisions," he went on, adding that "we are also seeing an increase in the number of white goods being replaced within five years because of a technical defect".

Indeed, the proportion of white goods being replaced within just five years because of defects has increased "noticeably" from 3.5% in 2004 to 8.3% in 2012.

Finally, the report found the first-use duration of notebooks has remained fairly constant and averages five or six years.

What has changed, though, is that only 25% of notebooks were replaced in 2012-13 because of technological innovation and consumers' desire for an upgrade. This compared with a percentage of 70% in 2004.

Data sourced from the Oeko Institut; additional content by Warc staff