The short life of a washing machine, or a matter of ecological hypocrisy

Another ban for the good of the Earth has recently come into force: as part of the fight against microplastics, loose glitter is no longer allowed to be sold in European Union countries. And when will there be a ban on the production of electronics and household appliances that end up in landfills immediately after the warranty expires, which lasts on average 2 years?

When I moved out of Warsaw several years ago, as a 33-year-old woman, I left my [Belarussian-made - translator’s note] Mińsk fridge in my family apartment. It was older than me and, apart from minor defects, it still worked perfectly...

I belong to a generation for which throwing away an item was a last resort. My mother took broken shoes to a shoemaker, and a worn-out zipper on her purse was replaced by a purse maker. Washing machine, fridge, vacuum cleaner, dryer, toaster, food processor - all this has served people in the household for decades. You bought new ones when the old ones, which had been repaired many times, were no longer likely to last long.

The same applied to electronic equipment, although in this case technological progress was faster and black-and-white TVs were swiftly replaced by colour ones, and we replaced reel-to-reel tape recorders with cassette, and later CD players. Radios served the longest; To this day, many Polish homes still have working models from the 1980s and older.

The replacement of devices that make life easier and provide entertainment resulted mainly from our desire, the dream of a previously unknown technical innovation or the exhaustion of repair possibilities. Today, it is a necessity, forcing the consumer to constantly seek funds for new equipment. Because once we save up for a new fridge, the washing machine breaks down. We will buy a washing machine, the dishwasher is starting to fail. And so as long as we live, we produce mountains of waste. Not because we want to, but because no one gives us a chance to function differently: ecologically and economically.

Regress instead of progress

Back then, any company's ambition was to produce the best quality products and, which usually went hand in hand with this, the product had to be durable. Currently, quality has been replaced by widespread availability intensified by advertising, the costs of which are borne by the consumer. We no longer have to hunt for goods - they simply fall into our hands! Persistence changed to seasonality; numerous variable fashions and limited editions were launched. Here, by definition, the time period must be short.

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Modern equipment is no longer an indicator of luxury. Its role in everyday life has been devalued. And although it is difficult, especially when you have children, to do without a washing machine, it is not a value that you bring to a relationship like family capital. The fact that the washing machine works today does not guarantee that it will work tomorrow. When it breaks down, we most often hear that repairing it is not profitable. Better to buy a new one…

And I know a really lucky guy who still has a working Frania [washing machine produced in the 60s and 70s in Communist Poland - translator’s note]. And it’s probably not an isolated case, because in the past the tanks in washing machines were enamelled. Later they were made of corrosion-resistant steel, the so-called inox (inoxydable steel). The mountings in such a device were made of cast iron, which can only be dreamed of today with the cheap technology of plastic surrogates. There were cases of the drum being punctured by a small coin left in a pocket.

One would like to ask: where is the institution of product quality control? In the grey, grotesque Polish People's Republic, such a “modern” washing machine would rightly be called crap. Meanwhile, in the world of increased concern for the climate, there is still only discussion about the short life of equipment, but no one has the courage to challenge the corporations responsible for littering the Earth. If they had to pay climate compensation to the budgets of countries that opened their markets to their short-lived products, the assortment would probably become more durable.

  The fact that the rules of trade are determined by simple human greed was clear already over 100 years ago. The famous Phoebus cartel went down in inglorious history (its members included such famous companies as Osram, Philips and General Electric), when between 1925 and 1939 deliberately shortened the life of its products to force consumers to make more frequent purchases. And although the corporation never admitted to unethical activities, it is known that companies that produced longer-lasting lightbulbs were punished by Phoebus with high fines.

Nowadays, it’s no secret that this mechanism still holds strong. It also does not contradict the ecologists' narrative about the so-called climate crisis - a phenomenon for which, of course, the consumer is always responsible.

The widespread replacement of mechanical systems by electronic ones is also responsible for the short lifespan of things. Although today's equipment can do much more than before, it does not bring us closer to the perfect world known from futuristic literature. Not only are our smart accessories not cheap, but they are also far from long-lasting. Even if one of them resists mechanical destruction, after some time we will not be able to run it because the hardware will no longer be supported by latest software.
I know a lucky person who has a still working Frania - writes the author. In the photo: 1973. A queue at the taxi stop at Marszałkowska street in Warsaw. Photo PAP/Andrzej Rybczyński
Sometimes the reasons are even more prosaic. A few years ago I bought a vacuum cleaner and paid extra to extend the warranty. The equipment still works, yes, but what good is it if they no longer produce bags for this model and I have to luby them second hand. And although I didn't go back to the era of the dustpan and broom, I did buy a second vacuum cleaner, which meant more kilograms of plastic. The model is used, but arithmetically speaking, I have one more vacuum cleaner than I need. And I didn't intend to burden the Earth with this ballast.

But it is me, as a consumer, who is responsible for the good of the planet - corporations that produce crap and sabotage social initiatives promoting the possibility of repairing equipment are excluded from this process.

Nihil novi

Similarly, no one holds officials accountable for pointless initiatives and ideas - or their lack.

Segregation of recyclable materials has now become a symbol - a modern man, responsible for the future of the Earth, a sensitive ecologist, must segregate waste. Few seem to remember that in the Polish People's Republic the secondary raw materials market worked better than today. By selling waste paper or bottles, you could actually earn extra money for your pension or pocket money. Although the bottle collection centres of that time had their drawbacks, because they were not always open and not everywhere collecting a given type of glass packaging, you could not find so many kilograms of abandoned waste in housing estates and forests.

Currently, the main pathology of Polish system are non-returnable glass bottles. Not to mention the plastic ones, which, despite the requirement to segregate waste, are literally everywhere. If it was possible to recover part of the amount spent on purchasing a drink, most people would not want to waste potential money.

In the EU, the deposit system for plastic and aluminum packaging covers more and more countries. Unfortunately, Poland is still not among them.

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The official battle for a clean Earth is gaining momentum and becoming more grotesque every year. There is certainly more to it than that. What should we call the ban on the sale of plastic straws (from May 2023), which have been replaced by paper ones wrapped in... foil? Apart from the fact that if we want to enjoy a drink using a straw, we use more paper ones, which quickly soften in the liquid? Where does concern for the priceless good of the planet, i.e. trees, fit into all this?

Just like wooden cutlery added to ready-made salads... Not only are they clumsy and non-functional to use - half of the portions fall off - but there are also splinters. They are also more difficult to wash and reuse. So who can say about themselves with a clear conscience: I am ECO!? A consumer who repeatedly uses a plastic fork and a plastic bag, or one who in good faith reaches for a wooden knife and a paper bag for one zloty, which often breaks on the way to the car parked next to the store?

The ideas of EU officials are endless, and there is little logic in them: a ban on the use of traditional toilet paper may soon be introduced in order to protect natural resources and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by at least 35%. by 2030. It will be replaced by paper made of straw with supposedly similar parameters, but ultimately it will be recommended to wash private parts with soap and water. For this purpose, experts from Brussels recommend installing special devices with dispensers in toilet bowls. How does this project relate to the need to protect drinking water resources, which are increasingly scarce?

A valid question arises here: is it still science or quackery? And is man completely excluded from caring for the Earth?

– Katarzyna Kasjanowicz

TVP WEEKLY. Editorial team and jornalists

-translated by Maciej Sienkiewicz
Main photo: We no longer have to hunt for goods. They fall into our hands! In the photo: winter sales at Galeria Młociny in Warsaw. Photo PAP/Albert Zawada
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