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What we buy creates tomorrow’s world

The work Which? does, whether testing products or campaigning for change, doesn’t only protect consumers today, but has an impact on the future.

Impacts on the future are particularly true of the environment. When I started working here, buying a diesel car was seen as a smart move as it was cheaper to run, and better for the planet. Or so we thought.

But now we know the dangers of diesel and the VW emissions scandal further destroyed our trust in the fuel. Which? has had to work hard to make sure people hear the full story. The emergence of electric and hybrid cars has given extra choices to those trying to find the most environmentally friendly options.

I drive a diesel car because of the miles I cover, but I’m planning to go electric for my next car. That wasn’t even an option when I started here. Our latest research has tested what is really the best choice for you and the environment when selecting a new car, as well as what the most economical options are.

But it’s not just the big purchases such as cars that can have a significant environmental impact – the everyday items we buy can as well. Plastic and what to do with our used plastic containers has become a huge issue that most of us have to wrestle with on a daily basis.

Even if you do want to recycle the plastics you use, it isn’t always straightforward to find out which can be recycled – and even then it varies from one postcode to the next.

When judging products and developing our campaigns, understanding what tomorrow may bring can often pose the greatest challenge for Which? The world we live in is constantly changing, and so we have to keep rigorously questioning in order to make sure you can make the right choices… and not only for the short term.

It’s vital that we make informed decisions about what we buy today, because where the environment is concerned, tomorrow may be too late.

This contribution to Which? Conversation first appeared in the August 2018 edition of Which? Magazine (page 15: ‘Peter says’). We’d love to hear your views on on our buying choices, and the impact these products have on the environment – George.

Comments
Member

Am I alone in thinking that Which? reports are looking increasingly like advertising features to promote sale of goods?

I would like to see all Which? product reports raise awareness of environmental issues. For example:

> Why replace a product if it is still working well? The money spent on a replacement product may not be recouped by by buying a product that is claimed to be more efficient. Manufacture and disposal of unnecessary products is a waste of resources and if waste materials are not properly disposed of can cause environmental problems.

> If a product is faulty and you have not abused it, is it still covered by guarantee, or less than six years old (5 in Scotland) – in which case you could make a claim under the Consumer Rights Act. There is plenty of advice on the Which? website, with the glaring omission of advice on making a claim for poor durability. Your rights are against the retailer and if you are told to contact the manufacturer or told that there is nothing that can be done then say that they are breaking the law and that you have statutory rights under the CRA.

> If a product is faulty but not covered by guarantee or your statutory rights – too old or you have accidentally damaged it – then can it be repaired? The cheapest way of repairing products is to do it yourself and there is plenty of advice online, and parts can be obtained from various sources. Obviously care is needed when working with products that plug into the mains and you may need special tools but these can be used in the future. If the alternative is going to be to dispose of faulty goods then there is little to be lost by attempting a repair.

> Why replace a mobile phone after two years, just because the contract has ended? SIM-only deals are available and you can carry on using the same phone until it is no longer up to the job. If it is just the battery that requires replacement, that’s a lot cheaper than buying a new phone. If the screen has cracked then that can be replaced, but it might be worth thinking about getting a protective case to avoid breakage of the new screen.

> Why buy rechargeable products such as power tools if they are going to be used once or twice a year? They are absolutely ideal for regular users but for occasional use a corded tool will carry on working for many years whereas the battery on a rechargeable tool has a limited life.

Member
DerekP says:
29 July 2018

wavechange, I agree that all too often Which? seems to promote materialism and consumerism over and above sustainability and respect for the environment.

That was one of the reasons why I recently cancelled my subscription.

Member

I agree on rechargeable power tools. With little use, batteries do not last.

We bought a rechargeable pole pruner and claimed a free battery. A chainsaw on the end of a pole although useful when required, has very limited use. It might get used once or twice a year making around made 10-30 cuts a time.

After several years, the batteries were dead and would not charge. I got them replaced as not fit for purpose. The store I purchased them from argued my case with the manufacturer on the basis the batteries still looked brand new.

Several years later, the batteries are nearly dead again. This time they have had periodic recharging but neither has enough power to cut through a branch.

So we have just bought a corded pole pruner that cost less than buying 2 replacement batteries. It is lighter, available on demand and I wonder why I struggled with the other one for so long.

Member

The August 2018 issue of the Which? magazine has a decent article on plastics waste and hopefully we will see other environmental issues covered in future. I would like to see Which? look at the use of environmentally harmful chemicals in the home and garden. Antibacterial handwash is an example of a worthless product that is damaging to the environment. If you look at the list of gardening chemicals that have been banned it’s not difficult to imagine that those now on sale may well be banned tomorrow.

Probably the best way to raise awareness of environmental issues is to focus on how much our lifestyle costs us.

‘Buy cheap and buy twice’ is an old adage warning of the risk of buying cheap goods. It would be interesting to know how long cheap goods last using familiar examples. On the other hand, paying for expensive products might not be good value unless they continue to work for a long time and are not just replaced with new ones. Again, it would be interesting to have some information about lifetime. The easiest approach is to look at cost of ownership, but that will relate to the overall environmental impact.

We have often discussed the need for schools to teach kids about how to manage money and to make them more numerate. I don’t disagree, but it’s a great time to learn about sustainability and respecting the environment.

Member

I first read Mr Vicary-Smith’s piece in the August Magazine and was surprised to see it being used as Conversation subject as it doesn’t seem to go anywhere. We are told that Which? would love to hear our views “on on [sic] our buying choices, and the impact these products have on the envrionment [sic].

I am not sure what Which?’s “buying choices” are – does it mean the products they choose to test, or the products they recommend us to buy? If the former, then they should not be making choices – they need to test all the products easily obtainable in the UK that lie within the category for testing, but they should also comment on any environmental impact – positive or negative – in order to produce useful test reports to assist consumers. If the latter, then the question arises whether environmental impact is a criterion for determining whether or not a product is a ‘best buy’ or a ‘don’t buy’. Personally I don’t think it should be taken into account in rating a product which should remain based strictly on performance and price, but a commentary should be included on any environmental factors as well because in the minds of some consumers that might have a bearing on their decision.

I question whether it is possible to obtain all the relevant information necessary to make an authoritative comment on the environmental factors except on the basis of typical use, but how is that determined? Must it assume that a washing machine or a dishwasher will always be loaded to its maximum capacity? That a kettle will only have just enough water for the volume required? That appliances will be kept in perfect condition and be used until they fail completely? Domestic life is full of inefficiency. Should Which? stop testing products that are cheap and perform adequately but are environmentally unfriendly? Which is more important to include in test ratings – environmental impact or safety? It is arguable that ‘safety’ is a factor in performance so is included in the test ratings. I feel that so long as we are given as much information as possible on the environmental factors we can then use our own judgment as to what we should buy [if we really need it and the colour is compatible].

I have been in two houses lately where a 1970’s hostess trolley was standing in the dining room awaiting the call to service so there is no need to replace things if they are fit for purpose and durable even if a little dated.

Member

I am very glad that we are having so much discussion about environmental issues in the past few months. I would be delighted if Which? would include an environmental rating as a factor in calculating ratings. Maybe we should look at ethics too because some of the best known products come from companies that are not very good in one way or other.

Regarding dishwashers, why not wait until they are full? I expect that at some time in the future, someone will work out that the aggressive detergent that is used in dishwashers is not very good for the environment.

Member

Why not wait until the dishwasher is full? Because even with a good stock of pots & pans and crockery & cutlery there are often some things in the dishwasher that are needed before the machine is full. As I said, domestic life is full of inefficiency.

Member

On the question of the aggressive detergent used in dishwasher tablets, the big problem is that many sink wastes [into which dishwashers usually drain] do not flow into the foul water system but into the surface water system and thus end up in water courses. This is usually because incorrect alterations have been made to the property drainage in order to allow for sinks, dishwashers and washing machines to be installed in rooms where there is no convenient soil pipe. Where there are ‘combined drains’ at least the only outlet is to the foul water system and sewers but it means that surface water is entering as well and potentially giving rise to flooding and backing up.

None of this comes close to the problems caused by the disposal of non-decomposable wet wipes down the toilet. The word ‘flushable’ is truthful but misleading; yes, they will go into the sewers alright, but they will not break down and will eventually clog up the sewers [especially when amalgamated with fats and other solids] preventing the free flow on which health and hygiene rely.

Member

I very rarely put pans in the dishwasher. They take up too much space and non-stick pans are very easy to wash by hand. Like combining journeys and car sharing to cut down on driving there is a great deal that we can all do to minimise our impact on the environment, and without going to extremes.

Edit: You are absolutely right about the problems associated with waste plumbing in homes, John. I am very disappointed that more has not been done to address the problem.

Member
NukeThemAll says:
29 July 2018

Mobile phones are an interesting example. Google has a time limit of 3 years for Android phones, after which the OS no longer receives updates (Apple are much better for this) thus encouraging a sense of obsolescence – although my old Nexus 6 phone still does all that I need it to do. Additionally, battery replacement in many (most?) phones can be a very difficult or impossible process for the average user.

Member
DerekP says:
29 July 2018

In my experience, it is quite common for cheap Android phones to become “beyond economic repair” in less than three years. When a replacement only costs £20 – £50, there is not much incentive to bother getting them repaired.

I also have an older Samsung that still works OK as phone and camera, but won’t properly browse the internet anymore. I’ve looked into re-flashing it to a more modern OS, but that did not look like being a 5 minute job.

I even have an original Blackberry 7250 that still works fine – but has no internet capability at all.

Member

Yesterday, my Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge decided to go into permanent rebooting mode. 😟

The phone will be 2 years old at the end of September. I went to use it yesterday but the battery was dead so plugged it in to recharge. What worries me though, is how hot the phone had become by the time I noticed it rebooting.

I always wait a while before accepting software updates as they are not always thoroughly tested but Samsung overides ‘update later’ when it feels like it. I am not sure if it tried to force an update on a low battery or the rebooting killed it off.

There are various suggestions on the internet on how to fix it, so my job for today……..

Member

My Garmin sat nav decided to start rebooting repeatedly after I had left it in standby mode instead of switching it off completely. I tried leaving it charging for a couple of hours but that failed. Knowing that I had twice had to dismantle an old TomTom sat nav and disconnect the battery to sort out a problem, I took apart the Garmin and found a reset button that I could have accessed through a tiny hole in the case. Pressing the button restored normal operation. I assumed that my data would be lost but it is still there. Best of luck, Alfa.

Member

Thanks wavechange. It might surprise you to hear I am in 2 minds regarding my phone.

I haven’t started yet, but it is very possible that I can fix it. I am all for repairing products whenever possible.

But it does worry me how hot the phone was when I realised it was stuck in a rebooting loop and it might have done it twice, the first time depleting the battery. Could the phone now be damaged or its life shortened? It was very hot.

It has one month left on the guarantee………..

My conscience tells me to fix it, my £600 pocket tells me to leave it rebooting until it overheats and gives up completely. My photos are backed up and lost texts will be no great loss.

If it had a longer guarantee, I would record it rebooting, try fixing it and see how it goes, but one month………? The sale of goods act and being fit for purpose might have too many get-outs on a mobile phone after the guarantee runs out.

Perhaps I should call John Lewis or Samsung tomorrow…………. John Lewis first and at least get it recorded as a problem on my account?
🤔

Member

alfa, maybe this will help (if you haven’t already found it!).
https://www.technobezz.com/fix-samsung-galaxy-s7-edge-overheating-issue/
My S4 got pretty hot the other day for no apparent reason, seemed to use battery up more quickly than usual, so maybe it was busy doing things I was not aware of.

Member

Your right malcolm your phone does do things you are not aware of even if you turn it off.

Member

Thanks malcolm, I haven’t found that one yet, I was concentrating on the reboot loop.

I think fast cable charging is already off, at least it was the last time I looked some time ago.

I also tried a soft reboot and clearing the cache, but neither stopped the reboot loop, and as it was so hot, I turned it off. Disabling apps would be the next step.

It won’t stay up long enough to do an update.

As it is still in guarantee, I think I will wait and call JL tomorrow before doing anything else.

Member
DerekP says:
29 July 2018

alfa, those were recommended as things to try first on a wep page I read this morning.

I guess it could also be a hardware fault – in which case calling that in under your 2 year guarantee would be our best option.

Member

Unless it’s happily mining for bitcoins….

Member

Very possible Ian but it would mean Alfa,s virus control is not up to scratch or she “invited ” it into her system by downloading an app.

Member

Alfa -open up task manager >click on >processes , the look to see if any process is using large amounts of CPU /memory, from what I remember you can stop the processes anything over 50 % check out what the process is. If MS doesn’t like you stopping anything download Htop –sorry Alfa it doesn’t cover Windows just LInux/Mac try https://www.processblocker.com/ or if you are good at programming https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/powershell/module/microsoft.powershell.management/stop-process?view=powershell-6

Member

Alfa – In your position I would contact both JL and Samsung for the reasons you have mentioned. Samsung may be able to advise on how to break the cycle of resetting (as I did with my sat nav) or do a factory reset, which will remove data, but assuming that this is backed up in a similar way to what Apple uses will be easily restored. It may be that there is a hardware fault that would have to be repaired.

If you have to make a claim under the Consumer Rights Act, which replaced the Sale of Goods act in 2015, it will be a case of providing evidence that the fault existed at the time of purchase (very unlikely) or under the poorly defined durability clause that we have agonised over for years. In your position I would push for a repair or a refurbished phone. If you are offered a partial refund or a discount on a new phone it is unlikely to be very generous. That’s my two penn’orth but I’m sure that more advice will be available on Which? Convo. 🙂

Member

I googled how helpful is samsung customer service

Top of the list is uk.trustpilot that gives 1.1/10 from 859 reviews 😟

I have never found the need to add any apps, some of the ones it came with have sufficed. It works for phone calls, texts, emails (disabled), internet and has a pretty good camera. It has in-built security and I don’t use it for any financial transactions or banking. I do most things on my desktop.

I’m not sure I am in the right mind-set to deal with customer services today and I have other things to do, so will probably leave JL until tomorrow. Luckily, I still have my trusty old Nokia.

The operating system is Android not MS Duncan.

Member

I am sorry Alfa there is no exact equivalent to a “processor indicator ” in Android unless you can do programming (I dont mean adding /changing things ) I mean software programming . It can be done by adding two bar indications but it is not simple.

Member

If I didnt know better I would think I was listening to a High Power Advertising boardroom policy being put forward https://www.statista.com/topics/979/advertising-in-the-us/ 23 red is the number one advertising agency at the moment ,member of Worldwide Markets, a global organisation . Its funny their future strategy ties in with this convo . On the other hand I am probably totally wrong and just cynical but I know how big advertising USA works including employing psychologists etc . If I am wrong then this is a good course of action on terms of future planning of what should be Which,s future “Front Face ” towards the British public but it must be successful , the question is —-for Who ?

Member

In terms of mobile phones, I shall soon be replacing my smart phone thanks to battery performance having dropped to almost unacceptable level, and replacing the battery is open heart surgery, including a soak in a nasty substance to dissolve a glue line.
I submit that until battery development is far further advanced, the battery in a mobile phone should be considered a consumable – and it should be as easy to swap as the sim card. How have we as consumers allowed in-building batteries to be no longer a user-serviceable replacement to occur? No engineers worth their salt would do such a thing unilaterally unless instructed to do so by businesses deliberately making phones uneconomical torepair with a known finite life component. Furthermore, the fact that the lion’s share (if not all) modern smart phones fall into this category suggests either conspiracy/cartel – or a substantial cost benefit making early write-off worthwhile. It all smells fishy to me.

Edited to add that, despite the time difference, I’d not read “Nukethemall”‘s post above which chimes heavily with my thoughts.

Member

To me as well Roger . Spock –of the good (American ship ) Enterprise -figures, would also say, Illogical in engineering terms (after speaking to Scotty ) . Its been admitted many times in America .

Member
DerekP says:
29 July 2018

All the cheap Alcatel’s that I tend to buy have easily replaceable batteries.

In fact, it’s ages since I last bought a phone that did not have a user replaceable battery. I do remember two (supposed Which? best buy Moto G’s that did not have replaceable batteries and possibly one other).

There is some, at least circumstantial, evidence that planned obsolescence is engineering into certain expensive brands of phone and laptop. Last night, I watched Louis Rossmann comparing and contrasting the repairability of a MacBook pro (with soldered-in everything) with a ThinkPad.

My take is that was a bit of unfair comparison because a ThinkPad is a high grade business computer but a Mac Pro is merely a fashion accessory masquerading as the latter.

Member
DerekP says:
29 July 2018

…and no-one’s every going to mistake a ThinkPad for a fashion accessory.

Member

I think Engineers should take on a substantial role in ruling the country (and the world) as they combine expertise, enquiring minds, innovation and pragmatism in appropriate proportions. I’d also include some Scientists.

Member

They certainly coudnt do any worse than the current politicians . The UK is getting ready for an emergency if there is no Brexit agreement – the military have been told to store food as have supermarkets . Dont get alarmed though HMG says -quote-“its just a precaution ” we are looking after your interests . I am sure an older guy than me said the same thing to me about the same “precautions ” before WW2 . You got my vote malcolm .

Member

Malcolm – one of my frequently used sayings as I encounter life’s technical problems is “there is no problem that is not susceptible to an engineering solution”.

I think the stockpiling of essential commodities is easy to criticise and mock as the media are doing but if we didn’t and the worst happened we would look a bit silly and for some it could mean severe hardship. We have got ourselves into a corner over Brexit so the government owes it to us to find a way out.

We really are like a rabbit caught in the headlights right now not knowing which way to turn; I think this is going to go down as the biggest political débâcle in our history.

Member

I have argued for a number of years now that Which? should, when testing products, include whether they are repairable at sensible cost for common failures, whether they are easy to access for repair, with manufacturers instructions provided to help diy and whether they are well-built and durable (quality of components and of construction for example). They can do this by dismantling products and examining them, maybe with expert help. We can then make a decision on real value for money. PV-S could have got them doing this years ago.

The throw away culture in some markets – mobile phones, games machines -just to own the “latest” is waste we should avoid, just as much as the packaging waste issue we are currently addressing. Yet Which? promotes these seemingly without real thought for their environmental impact.

Diesel has been elevated by some to “scandal” status as a U-turn from their previous philosophy, which illustrates a lack of understanding of the problem initially, and now. Journalism over expertise, I’d suggest. Diesel emissions can be even better controlled and will, I suspect, be with us for a long time. The passion for electric vehicles overlooks the additional materials and energy input need to create them, and that while much of our electricity is generated from fossil fuels, the electric car is around 33% less fuel efficient than a “self contained” diesel car. We need, of course, to consider the vast number of commercial diesels where emission control will, I suggest, offer the best practical solution. Examining public transport and staggered working hours is something not considered.

What’s rattled my cage? Which? have had a long time, with many comments from members and Convo contributors, to tackle issues in a more in-depth and properly-researched way, to improve the lot of consumers. Instead of which they often appear to wish to generate headlines and join a bandwagon. What has happened to product recalls, re-establishing trading standards, dealing with Amazon’s unsafe products, getting proper recognition of the Consumer Rights Act by consumers and retailers……………………. ?

I hope that we will see a more serious and focused Which? under the new CEO where consumers are put first and a real attempt made “to make them as powerful as the organisations they have to deal with”..

Member

IT’s not a new thing either. I remember in yesteryear that What Car and “Motor” both used to list cost of replacing front brake pads, alternator, headlight bulbs and services as part of their road tests..

Member

So did the very first Which? mag, for a Standard 10 and an A35 I think, although if I remember rightly the test report came from Sweden. I am all in favour of cooperation with other consumer bodies to share the costs and get better reports.

Member

It may come as a surprise but the US public are not upgrading their cell-net phones so often now due to the high prices of smartphones -$1000 . No slouches American big business , they realised that through -surveys/ sales figures/ Google watching browser movements etc and guess what ? they have now uprated their Second-Hand – Smartphone businesses and new ones springing up all the time . You cant say Americans are not Enterprising ( beam me up Scotty ) .

Member

There are plenty of smartphones for far less money, of course. Best buys start at £200
https://www.which.co.uk/reviews/mobile-phones

We are susceptible to features that are added as phones are remodelled, presumably in the belief they will improve our life or image. The ease with which this can be done at the end of a 2 year contract is one problem, where the real cost does not hit you. Which? could maybe do more to point this out but it can only educate a relatively few people who are probably savvy enough anyway. Is there an answer to stopping this waste? What bothers me also is that this habit extends to the young, and even very young, people who must be seen to keep up with or ahead of their peers. Not a good training for later life, perhaps.

I’m all in favour of a refurbished market if sourced from reputable dealers, and even more in favour of a return to easily-replaceable batteries. My 12 year old dumb Nokia is still in service (but has been rather superseded by a hand-me-down Galaxy S4 in which I put a new battery – but it may not have been necessary as I was not clued up enough to know how quickly they discharged compared to said Nokia.

Member

I suggest just passing older phones on to friends and family because so many problems have been reported about dealers. If a phone is worth too much to pass on then why not keep it and ignore the commercial hype about the latest and greatest phones.

Member

Thats what upset American Big Advertising , they admitted the US public are getting more cynical about all those adverts saying – your neighbours got one , want to be left out of the crowd ? -upgrade now ! and they dont use all the facilities provided .

Member

My 9 year old Nokia is still going strong on the original battery. I recharged it 2 days ago and the battery is still registering as full.

It is mainly used as an alarm clock to give daily reminders to take meter readings then coffee time, but is also still in service and gets used sometimes as it gets a better signal at home than the Samsung (same network 🙄 ) that can drop mid-conversation.

I can’t see the Samsung battery lasting 9 years.

Member

Mine are too – I have a few Nokia 6310i phones and a few batteries in the drawer for a rainy day. Wonderful things. June uses one and it has endless staying power.

Member
DerekP says:
30 July 2018

My car refused to “boot” yesterday. Looks like its battery has “lost a cell” after only 10 years, so I’ll have to get it a new battery.

Member

Must have been a Samsung battery . I wouldn’t mind losing only a single brain cell after 10 years.

Member

Ten years is good for a car battery but there is no reason why this should not be common. Most modern car batteries cannot be topped up and that means that they will fail prematurely. That is poor design and a waste of resources.

I look after equipment owned by a charity. One of the batteries was fitted in 2003, which makes it 15 years old. It’s in use most days at this time of year. It is a traditional type and I keep it topped up with distilled water.

Member
DerekP says:
30 July 2018

Actually, my old battery was labelled Tudor not Samsung and, if it’s the one that came with the car, would actually be 12 years old.

Thanks to my local KwikFit, I now have a new battery and a working car again.

Top tip: When buying a battery from KwikFit, make sure you know the registration number of the vehicle that it is for. Otherwise, their computers won’t sell you a battery.

Member
Phil says:
31 July 2018

When buying anything from KwikFit be prepared to refuse all the other stuff they’re going try and sell you and on no account agree to having a free brake check.

Member

My tip for buying batteries is to avoid fast-fit and other normal retail outlets and go to a motor factor and buy a heavy duty battery, which will have at least the same CCA rating as the one it replaces. It’s best to replace a battery at the first sign that it is failing because it avoids inconvenience and a panic purchase that could be more expensive.

A motor factor will not replace a battery but it’s not difficult and there is plenty of information and safety advice online.

Member

That is exactly what I have done all my life Wavechange –Motor Factor – cheaper and you get a choice and a technical comment on it relating to your car and —-yes – its always the heavy duty version . Good advice !

Member

Sadly there are fewer and fewer motor factors around these days. A friend of mine’s father was a motor factor and his traditional shop was a veritable Aladdin’s cave of car parts from rubber pedal covers to semaphore trafficators and everything in between and since. He retired but was unable to sell the business as a going concern, although he was able to sell much of his stock to dealers and classic car enthusiasts.