Public understanding of product lifetimes and durability

Start date:
January 2010
January 2011

This study aimed to understand the potential amongst consumers for reducing the environmental impact of products by extending their lifetimes.

This research was commissioned by Defra to:

  • define the issues and collect evidence to develop an initial overview of public understanding of product lifetimes and durability;
  • complement and co-ordinate with the work being done by ERM on Longer Product Lifespans.

The study aimed to answer the following research questions:

  1. What understanding and expectations do consumers have of product lifetimes?
  2. What part do product lifetimes play in consumer purchasing decisions?
  3. What actions do consumers take to extend the life of their products both at purchase and during use?
  4. Why do consumers discard products, and in particular why do they discard products that have not reached the end of their useful lives?

The project was conducted by Brook Lyndhurst in three stages:

  • A literature review to look at existing work on attitudes towards durability and to uncover evidence on what motivates us to buy and dispose of products.
  • A first phase of original primary research with consumers in the form of twelve discussion groups. The discussion group research aimed to gain firsthand insight into consumers’ knowledge and understanding of product durability; explore the role, if any, of consumer expectations of product lifetimes on purchasing decisions; understand better how product lifetimes are affected by consumers’ treatment of products, considering in particular ‘ethics of care’ and attitudes towards disposal. This original research covers the following project categories: furnishings and interiors, white goods, small electrical appliances, consumer electronics and clothing.
  • A further nine discussion groupswere facilitated with consumers focussing on particular gaps in the existing evidence base relating to consumers’ reuse of ‘bulky’ household items. The aim was to identify within consumer attitudes and behaviours barriers to and opportunities for the reuse of ‘bulky’ products and where possible to identify the implications these may have for policy. 

The reports are available to download from the centre column

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    Zero Waste Scotland asked us to explore peoples’ engagement with the reuse and repair sector in the context of local service provision. The research built on our previous research undertaken at a national level, by understanding how the availability and accessibility of local services influences residents’ engagement with reuse and repair.

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