Shorter product life cycles make repairs redundant

While the reduction of waste is a worthwhile pursuit, we must accept that for regular household appliances, repairs are neither desirable nor necessary in this day and age (The forgotten 'R' in the drive to reduce waste by Dr Allen Chong; March 3).

Shorter product life cycles are fundamentally advantageous to the consumer, and have indirect benefits for the environment.

First, they permit manufacturers to prioritise affordability and quality over outright durability, which makes appliances cheaper and more accessible.

In the past, personal and home gadgets constituted a much larger slice of consumers' disposable income.

For instance, the average wage in the 1960s was $300, but a sewing machine cost $105, an electric rice cooker or kettle $45, and a wristwatch $45.

Since the cost of replacement was prohibitive, and parts were easy to source, repairs were economical and necessary.

Advances in industrial technology have now made it possible to mass-produce gadgets and sell them at low prices, outstripping the cost of repair.

Today, the average household can comfortably afford to purchase $15 watches and $17 rice cookers, and replace them every few years.

Second, frequent replacement allows users to keep pace with product development, thereby enjoying the associated benefits in performance, utility and energy efficiency.

The disposal of appliances has also become much more feasible.

Manufacturers like Lenovo and HP are now taking product recycling into consideration during the design process, which helps to mitigate the environmental toll of frequent replacement.

The trend of abbreviated product lifespans is not limited to electronics.

The latest commercial aeroplanes, passenger trains and automobiles are designed with short-term use and easy recycling in mind, reflecting the modern manufacturing paradigm.

Given this reality, we should accept that the concept of repair has, in many instances, become redundant.

Instead, we should double our efforts to ensure that the products we use are designed, produced, reused and, ultimately, recycled in a sustainable fashion.

Paul Chan Poh Hoi

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 09, 2017, with the headline 'Shorter product life cycles make repairs redundant'. Print Edition | Subscribe