Friday, 07 August 2015 09:24

Vacuum cleaners mistakenly sucked into throwaway culture

Vacuum cleaners are often thrown away too early because users fail to maintain them properly and mistakenly think they're broken beyond repair, a study by Nottingham Trent University shows.

vacuum wastedResearch led by Professor Tim Cooper, from the School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment, shows that consumers' attitude to maintenance results in many vacuums being discarded short of their anticipated 11 year lifespan.

"Rather than take proper care of vacuums, people are throwing them away prematurely rather than maintaining them properly and carrying out relatively simple repairs," said Professor Cooper, a specialist on the consumer society.

"This is a real issue, as the manufacture of vacuum cleaners accounts for the second largest production of greenhouse gases among electrical products. It's yet another worrying example of our growing throwaway culture which is damaging to the environment and completely unsustainable. We need to do a better job of designing products which stand the test of time and help turn the tide on the consumer society."

The study – based on a survey of over 500 respondents from around the UK –showed that 16 per cent of people replaced their previous vacuum cleaners with a new one despite their existing one still working. It also showed that 44 per cent replaced their vacuums because they were considered inefficient, although evidence suggested that often this was due to poor maintenance, such as not replacing or cleaning filters. And past research, by a separate organisation, found that 50 per cent of bulky items, including vacuums, which had been discarded had been found to be in good condition or easily repairable.

Dr Giuseppe Salvia, a researcher at Nottingham Trent University, presented the findings at the Product Lifetimes and the Environment (PLATE) conference. It was hosted by Nottingham Trent University's CIE-MAP (Centre for Industrial Energy, Materials and Products) research centre, and featured experts from around the globe exploring issues of the throwaway society.

Dr Salvia said: "There are several reasons for which we throw vacuum cleaners away prematurely, starting from rising repair costs, in conjunction with falling prices of newly made goods. Furthermore, people may feel emotionally detached from worn vacuums, frustrated from the process of getting the vacuum repaired, and concerned about the performance and hygiene of old machines, amongst other things.

"Future designs should take this into consideration and help improve the relationship between product and consumer so that attitudes can be changed to ones which are more sustainable."

Product Lifetimes and the Environment (PLATE) conference
Professor Tim Cooper, Nottingham Trent University
PLATE workshops - Cultures of mending: barriers and facilitating conditions