Vacuum cleaners 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 new study by Nottingham Trent University has claimed.

A survey of 500 UK respondents found that 44% threw their vacuum away because it was “inefficient”, despite failing to carry out basic maintenance such as cleaning and replacing filters.

Another 16% of people replaced their vacuum cleaners when it was still working.

Nottingham Trent’s Professor Tim Cooper, who led the study, said: “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.”

Global issue

More than 41 million tonnes of electrical and electronic waste was discarded around the world in 2014, with only a sixth re-used or disposed of in an environmentally friendly way.

A recent United Nations University (UNU) report estimated the value of re-suable resources in this waste stream could reach $52bn.

Dr Giuseppe Salvia, a researcher at Nottingham Trent University, added: “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.”

A new re-use superstore recently opened in Scotland, aimed at encouraging people to recycle their goods rather than throwing them away.

The EU is also currently collecting ideas for its forthcoming circular economy package, which will aim to ‘design in’ re-usability in EU goods.

Brad Allen 

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