Kathmandu, a New Zealand based outdoor equipment supply company, made it to the news when employees from one of their stores were observed slashing sleeping bags and other products before throwing them in a rubbish skip. The company said they were faulty goods returned by customers. They were destroyed to prevent them being returned again as faulty goods. That is a cop-out of course, because they can demand a sales receipt from the customer or the products could have been identified as being faulty stock and therefore not eligible for replacement.
What happened at Kathmandu also happens with electronics products.
Consumer electronics, as with outdoors gear, is made cheaply in China. The wholesale price must be stupefyingly low considering that you can buy a complex bit of electronics gear for something like $10 retail after it has passed though wholesalers and transport companies. These low wholesale prices are a disincentive to have items repaired. An item with a retail price of $10 is obviously a throw-away item if it fails but I have heard of electronic equipment with a sell price of up to $600 being treated as a throw-away item if it fails within the warranty period.
There are a lot of things that can be done instead of throwing electronic products into the rubbish.
- Companies can have products repaired at their cost rather than throwing it out. It would give them a degree of environmental credibility. If there are a lot of faulty items they can be done in a batch to make gains in efficiency.
- Some faulty products can be stripped of usable spare parts to fix up other ones. A good technician would know how to do this in such a manner that the reliability of the repaired product is not compromised. Sometimes this technique cannot be used when the same part fails in every individual product.
- To reduce the rate of failure, a company should ensure the products are made to a decent standard in the first place. This generally makes products more expensive and unfortunately consumers buy on price rather than reliability or effect on the environment.
If none of that is possible recycling is a viable option and may not cost anything.
All this reminds me of a story I heard back in the mid 1980s about television parts. Philips New Zealand, the local branch of the Dutch multinational, had a whole stack of television circuit boards that they probably could not sell so they took them out to the car park and destroyed them. In this case it was apparently for tax purposes. Writing off old stock is good for the company profits.
It is a shame the profit is always the bottom line in the corporate world.