Cosima Dannoritzer | Planned Obsolescence & The E-Waste Tragedy

Show Notes

Join The Higherside Chats podcast as host, Greg Carlwood discusses the social, environmental, and economic impact of planned obsolescence with guest, Cosima Dannoritzer.
While we’ve all seen the nefarious motives of international corporations, in egregious acts like contaminating our oceans and drinking water to polluting our atmosphere; one aspect that we may find ourselves overlooking is their carefully crafted agenda focused on shortening the lifespan of widely used consumer products. But, as luck would have it, today’s guest, Cosima Dannoritzer, joins The Higherside Chats to help us unravel the effect of this seemingly minute detail and better understand the enormous scope of issues humanity is facing due to our worship of the almighty dollar and our refusal to abandon the sinking ship of capitalism.
4:02 To kick things off, Greg and Cosima begin by discussing exactly what planned obsolescence is. It’s origins can be traced back to the 1950s and American industrial designer, Brook Stevens. Although Stevens originally used it as a way to capitalize on the consumer’s desire to own or replace items before they’ve been worn out, it has since been synonymous with consumer products built with a limited lifespan. Dannoritzer also details the various forms of planned obsolescence, including product malfunction and psychological factors influencing our consumption patterns.
13:30 After outlining the conditions surrounding the inception of the “lightbulb cartel” and their agenda to sabotage the quality, marketing, and durability of their product, Cosima cites a specific pre-cartel bulb that has been burning for over 100 years and serves as a shining symbol in a shift of not only the quality of manufacturing, but the mindset of consumers and businesses. She also recounts a first hand experience in India where the paradigm is still repair rather than replace.
18:42 This fail-by-design approach to manufacturing is an unfortunate result of our emphasis on a growth economy. Listen as Cosima illustrates the stark difference between Eastern Bloc communist countries with limited resources and the wasteful Western world rooted in commercialism.
27:20 Another blatant example of corporations “shortening the replacement cycle” can be seen in the design of ink-jet printers. Dannoritzer maps the course where consumers began to really lose control and buying power, starting with the lightbulb and eventually working it’s way to electronics. It was the expansion of the complicated consumer electronic market that opened the gates for manufacturers to fine tune their built-in obsolescence via 21st century technology like microchips.
37:15 Cosima elaborates on another example of planned obsolescence involving women’s tights and stockings. She also discusses the best options for breaking the cycle of waste and consumption, starting with products designed to be updated throughout time, rather than replaced.
43:42 Planned obsolescence goes beyond corporations engineering products to fail. With the vast majority of products containing toxic chemicals, fibers, and dyes that can’t be composted, it is easy to see that our civilization is on the brink of an epic ecological crisis.
Subscribe to the plus show to hear the extended episode, including:  

-Seattle’s Toxic Ash dumping scandal

-the pros and cons of class action lawsuits

-the extent of the health problems e-waste causes

-the move away from independence granting skills in school and culture

-laws and regulation differences around the world that are quiet telling of the systems they’re instituted in

-the expected resource crisis of 2030

-leading ideas for more sustainable systems

Want more Cosima Dannoritzer? Check out her films “The Light Bulb Conspiracy” and “The E-Waste Tragedy”
Want to hear more THC? Become a plus member and gain access to the additional hour as well as the THC forums! If you want to stay connected to The Higherside Chats, like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, check out our YouTube channel, find us on Reddit, or review us on iTunes. Thanks for the support, and until next time.
Photo credit: “The Light Bulb Conspiracy” / Media 3.14
A few valuable resources from the interview:
Industrial Strength Design: How Brook Stevens Shaped Your World:
Phoebus Cartel (light bulb manufacturer cartel):
the Mysterious Case of 113-Year-Old Light Bulb (in the firehouse):

PLUS Content

14 Responses

  1. This reminded me of my mother in law; when I met her she still had a hand mixer she got for a wedding present. I met her mid 80s, she was married on Pearl Harbor Day, December 7 1941. It was all metal & was a sealed unit & still ran like mad. Progress is not always better, just different.

  2. I can fix about anything that hasn’t got a computer chip in it. I may have the form of OCD called hoarding. The truth is, after I learned that how I roll is considered diseased, I thought about it and I think most of the stuff I hang onto really shouldn’t go into some landfill. Maybe that’s just a symptom. It drives me crazy to see good stuff shitcanned.

    Don’t get me started on planned obsolescence. When I was a kid, when a car’s shock absorbers stopped working, you replaced a little part in them and they were good to go again.

    We used to have a public dump in my county, and we called it “the mall.” It wasn’t strange for me to bring home more than I took. The sign said, “no salvaging.” Ha ha. If I had been caught, I would have had to tell the judge that I was guilty of stealin’ from the dump.

    I buy everything except food and little else used.

    So thanks, Greg. This is stuff that should be out there, changing society.

  3. I have a Braun shaver, it has a little light diode that signals when you need to replace the blades.. the thing is, I did not change the blades, I let the light flash for some time and it turned off eventually 😀 . Recently it was a second or third time (in maybe 5 or so years) it did that, asks to replace the blades, but it still shaves good without replacing them 😀 .
    About printers – in our office we have Canon laser jet printer, in it`s cartridges there is a chip, that says – end of a lifetime. When you change the chip, it works 😀 .
    I have heard many people saying that their smarthones died almost right after 2 year of use.
    Very good show, thanks!

  4. I can’t wait to hear this show. I noticed the deliberate planned obsolescence in all areas very early in life, when I was just a child, and have always been known for “customizing” everything. I also understood the reasons behind the planned obsolescence very young but I didn’t agree with it, especially in certain areas and products. If people are interested we can discuss this in the forum and share tips and fixes and other areas most people might not know to look for evidence of this very real, greed soaked and hidden aspect of our consumer based society.

    1. Good show. I’m happy she got into the printer/printer cartridges. My mom and I figured that out in about 1998. We started filling our own with custom cartridges. Computer software is FULL of limiting age-of-use coding. Internal combustion engine longevity, fuel consumption, power and overall efficiency are also a big issue that should be addressed. Even the initial break-in procedure for engines are wrong and actually reduces fuel economy, parts wear and power if you follow what they lead you to believe is the “best way.” It’s everywhere!

  5. Plastic gears be damned!! Plastic anything be damned!! It doesn’t last as long, cannot be refurbished or refinished once worn, and is toxic on the back end. I never buy cheap junk because I know most of it is designed to break. When I accidentally do buy something that breaks I typically try to fix it with mostly good results. I totally agree that design for recycling should be a social mandate, especially for electronics!! Generations from now people will look at how we squandered all of our resources over the last 200 years with a mixture of awe and disgust!! All of my old clothes go into the rag pile for being sewn into bags, ect. or for use in the garage.

  6. I’m always thinking about this! I’ve had several discussion boards for my tech classes and I always try to bring stuff like this up.We definitely don’t have the metals to last how fast new hardware is coming out. It’s way better to have small shops that will recycle and repair, but it wierdly is cheaper in the u.s. to buy new than to get the parts to repair. that’s changing though. I feel more and more hardware geeks are popping up in the gamer community. I think the maker community (which makes its own custom electronics and documenting the process and puts them online and comment on building process) is trying to change that in one way. Hopefully it swings the market around using less hardware (which should be soon according to Moore’s law) and focusing on maximizing on software while coming up with something that is more biodegradable/organic material. I also just did a power point on UBI (universal basic income) and I think now this would be a good topic to write my research on. It’s something I’ve been exploring for years and it can be a good topic to write about while tying in the reason why. Every single different market has it’s way of doing this and it’s gross. Biggest reason why I just stopped having a business. Quality stuff doesn’t sell anymore unless you have the money to not care how much it costs.

    1. One thing I noticed and thought I would share here, is the conundrum of advancing electronic components. The components that makes up our devices are so small that we have to build and program machines to build the components. This is a double-edged sword. In one aspect we are using far less material to build each component, resulting in less resources for the initial build. On the other hand it makes it nearly impossible to repair or replace components if they fail. You need special equipment just to de-solder and re-solder the components. To make it even more difficult it is very difficult to obtain the schematics of devices. Even if you have the schematics the components are so small that you need a magnifying glass to search the board to see the components. Then you have double-sided surface mounted and integrated boards that make tracing the board a serious endeavor.

      So, we are using much less material to build the components than older processes, which means we can cram tons of technology into a very small footprint. But, this also leads to repairing all of our electronic devices built within the last 10-15 years nearly impossible for the average electronics Do-It-Yourself’er which leads to 99% of our electronics being thrown away. This is just a product of the natural limitations of the common man’s ability to interact with advancing technologies due to the limited ability to aquire the necessary tools. There aren’t many people willing to purchase a $1200 surface mount work station to fix a $200 phone.

      The technology today is ran by computers. Computers handle the components, place them, solder them and test them. There really are no tech people that can trace the board and figure out the problem and fix it. It would take them a week to get the correct schematic, figure out the layout of the board, troubleshoot the problem and fix it. Its much easier and cheaper to just buy a new one. 99% of the electronics technicians wont even LOOK at a surface mount device because its too time consuming and difficult. Not to mention the specialized equipment needed… and the fact that its a very good possibility they have no idea what they are even looking at. An integrated circuit chip today can be smaller than the ball on a ball point pin, and there are hundreds or thousands of tiny components in our devices. With the most compact devices with the latest technology humans cannot repair them. The components are just too small. You would have to design, build and program a small custom computer controlled machine to replace whichever component to needed. They tell you “it’s just not worth it” because it’s better than admitting humans just can’t do it. That might worry people too much followed directly by the full weight of the reality of the situation.

      1. Excellent post, chromerhino.

        As a one time electronics tech, from the age of vacuum tubes, you’re point is perfectly taken. Now the greater issue must be, as my Higherside T-shirt (the one I have on now) says (“What’s After Capitalism?”), I am afraid we are trapped within a monopoly management scheme for the world, and forced to deal with its wasteful ways.

        So, to answer the question, we need worker owned companies to bring true democracy into production units of a size capable of creating our technologies going forward. When these units serve only concentrated capital, and those who hold it, the power of decision makers is blinded to any waste that can be put off on the citizens and the planet. When it will be these citizens themselves making the choices, we will have a chance to have a more conscious path.

        Look into what a cooperative can come to be by studying the Mondragon Companies, now a world wide cooperative. We have to have the means of production kept in the hands of those who do the work, not just those who count up their monetary gains. There is a way.

  7. The light bulb conspiracy is a great non-threatening way to ease skeptical family and friends into the broader conspiracy realm. Great show! By the way, another good intro for skeptics is the truth behind prohibition and alcohol as a fuel (Greg’s episode with David Blume).

    In honor of this episode I resisted the compulsory “upgrade” and changed the battery in my iphone myself, and sewed up a hole in my gym bag.

  8. Loved the show. The printer is something I always thought. It’s cheaper to buy a new printer than to buy an Ink cartridge. I think I’m on numero 7. But more my world is the auto parts. I have known that certain parts on cars are also meant to go out after X number miles. Water pumps ball joints, u joints and things are designed to fail at certain points. I get most those parts are moving, rotating and stress points, but the they still designed them to go out and not to last forever. I think that’s well known in the mechanic world

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