Confronting Product Obsolescence
54 Pages Posted: 20 Jan 2021 Last revised: 24 Nov 2021
Date Written: December 28, 2020
Firms frequently employ various strategies that make products obsolete after a relatively short time or limited usage (“product obsolescence”). Early product obsolescence harms consumers, undermines market efficiency, and increases the waste the throw-away economy generates. While instances of suspected planned obsolescence have recently led to public outcry, the law and policy framework that addresses product obsolescence is partial and underdeveloped.
This Article offers a principled and holistic approach to the regulation of product obsolescence. Part I presents the different forms of product obsolescence. The typology we offer in this Part highlights some types of obsolescence that escaped legal scrutiny. Thereafter, Part II reviews the harms that product obsolescence causes to consumers, competitors, the environment, and society. In doing so, we demonstrate how product obsolescence is at odds with two key EU commitments: a high level of consumer protection, and a proclaimed shift towards more ambitious environmental objectives. Next, Part III critically assesses the existing legal framework and its (in)ability to tackle effectively the problem of product obsolescence. Finally, Part IV offers policy recommendations, aimed at better utilizing existing and novel regulatory tools to cope with product obsolescence. Concluding remarks follow.
Keywords: Sustainable Consumption, Planned Obsolescence, Product Obsolescence, European Private Law, Legal Guarantee, Commercial Guarantee, Smart Disclosures, Ecodesign, Brussels Effect, European Green Deal, Circular Economy, Waste, Extended Producer Responsibility, Take-back Schemes
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