Have vacuum cleaners been sucked into the throwaway culture?

A study has been launched by Nottingham Trent University to examine the product life of vacuum cleaners and to find out whether they have been sucked into the disposable culture.

Led by Professor Tim Cooper, an expert in sustainable consumption at the School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment, the research will explore how perceptions of dirt, damage and poor maintenance may lead to consumers disposing of their vacuums when they are easily repairable.

The project aims to increase the lifespan of vacuums to help save raw materials and reduce landfill costs.

“After televisions, the manufacture of vacuum cleaners accounts for the largest amount of greenhouse gas emissions in electrical products,” said Professor Cooper.

“They’re used by households around the world and research suggests that people are replacing them with increasing frequency.

“Poor maintenance, loss of suction and even things like smells and scratches can make people think they’re worn out long before they’re broken beyond repair.

“So we’re keen to see how close to reality people’s perceptions of ‘broken’ are and whether this can be changed to save resources.”

Up to 100 members of the public will be interviewed in Greater Nottingham to find out people’s attitudes towards maintenance, repair and sustainability.

An online survey of 500 people will then analyse trends and consumer attitudes nationally.

Product design students at the university will design sustainable vacuums and the strongest design will be trialled with members of the public.

The research findings will then be applied to other electrical items, such as computer keyboards, and recommendations will be made as to how they can be more sustainable.

“Repairing a vacuum cleaner, rather than replacing it, should be the easiest and cheapest thing to do,” added Professor Cooper.

“We need to find out why people throw away their vacuum cleaners prematurely and remove any of the perceived barriers to repair work.

“Manufacturers could profit considerably from making machines which are reliable and repairable, as this can make people more loyal to their brand.

“And if there was an increased demand for repair services, it may also help stimulate economies locally.

“So it makes economic as well as environmental sense that we find out the real reasons why people throw away their vacuum cleaners early, and that we reverse what appears to be a growing trend of vacuums being treated as a disposable item.”

www.ntu.ac.uk

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