The products we buy have significant environmental and social impacts. The materials needed to produce them have to be extracted or harvested, and the production itself is often energy intensive and wasteful. In addition, the main priority for the majority of companies who produce them is to sell an ever increasing amount; there is often little incentive for companies to reduce the impacts of their activities or their products on the environment or in local communities, and little incentive to repair existing products in the market.
However, companies have both the potential and the responsibility to make their products better for people and planet: from rethinking product design and production to minimise natural resource use – such as minerals, water and fuel – to ensuring people and the environment are protected throughout the supply chain.
In addition, Friends of the Earth Europe believe that product lifetimes need to be increased, with more durable products on the market, and the promotion of product reuse and repair across Europe. The reuse sector has significant socio‐economic value and employment potential as well as positive environmental impacts which should be maximised.
A mobile phone can contain more than 40 different common and rare metals, including tin. Tin, for example, is a vital component in all phones and electronic gadgets. Almost a third of the world's supply of tin comes from the islands and surrounding sea beds of Bangka island in Indonesia. Destructive mining techniques in Bangka are destroying forests and farmland, choking coral reefs and devastating communities.
Friends of the Earth campaign to get companies to improve the way products are made –including how the materials are extracted. The Make it Better campaign, calls for new rules to make companies more transparent about the full impacts of their production of household goods on the environment in a bid to reduce the strain upon the planet's natural resources.
The products we buy are becoming obsolete increasingly rapidly. This is creating a trend for the continued consumption of the same or similar products, in a world where natural resources are becoming scarcer. Instead of creating additional pressure on resources we should be reducing, reusing and recycling.
One aspect of this work concerns the warranties of products we buy. European member states have differing rules concerning the length of warranties. The minimum warranty in European Union is two years; this allows companies to develop products with a limited shelf life. Examples include the Epson printer, designed to stop working after 18,000 copies, or the Apple iPod whose life is limited to that of the battery.
Friends of the Earth Europe campaigns to extend the warranty period for all electrical and electronic products, from 2 years up to 10 years. This will reduce waste, minimise the social and environmental impacts of material extraction and create jobs in Europe.
Some companies no longer produce hardware that can withstand an operating system update, meaning that within a few years it is obsolete. In contrast, those manufacturers that try to differentiate themselves by offering sustainable products and quality are not valued.
Products may be more efficient when in use, but the manufacture of more and more models is polluting, and a trend moving towards more fragile products that are difficult to repair further increases pressure on scarce resources. Repairing products is sometimes more expensive than to buy a new product.
Friends of the Earth Europe campaigns to maximise the lifespan of products, and to make product reuse and repair the norm.