Consumers play an essential role in efforts to extend product lifetimes (PL) and consumers' practices can determine how long and active lives products get. Applying the framework of Social Practice Theory, this paper argues that in order to suggest changes to how consumers can contribute to longer product lifespans, research needs to focus on consumer practices. The data material consists of 4 focus group interviews with 38 participants about household goods and 29 semi-structured interviews about clothing. Previous research shows that consumers' expectations of product lifetime has decreased, while satisfaction with products is relatively high, which may indicate that product break down and/or replacement is more accepted. Therefore, we argue, it is necessary to focus on social lifespans. Our findings show that products such as clothing and sofas often go out of use or are disposed of before their physical lifespan ends, and it is more common to donate or sell old clothing and sofas than buying the products second hand. There are a number of routinised practices, such as disposal of functional items, that are considered normal, which leads to less reflexivity of seemingly unsustainable practices. The material in products, or the expectation to the material, is highly influential for practices that can extend the social lifespan, such as maintenance. We conclude that by understanding practices as integrated and influenced by elements of the material, social and cultural, policy interventions may have a greater impact on the social lifespan of products.
Reuse of clothing is a central strategy in circular economy for keeping the resources and materials in the loop longer. This paper studies the correlation between clothing service lifespans measured in years, number of wears and number of users, and whether there is a difference in length of lifespans between new and preowned garments. The analysis is based on an international quantitative wardrobe survey conducted in China, Germany, Japan, the UK and the USA with 53 461 registered garments. Results show that newer garments are used more actively than the older garments. Garments that are less than two years old are used about 30 times per year, while garments that are over 15 years old are only used about 3 times a year. Secondhand garments are worn on average 30% times less by the current user than garments that were acquired as new. Garments that the user anticipates donating or selling are worn 22% times less than garments that are planned to be discarded. The results show that reuse is beneficial for increasing the clothing lifespans, but it does not increase the active wear as much as expected. These findings have theoretical, managerial and political implications on which measures contribute to the longest garment lifespans with the least environmental impact and which kind of measures could help to implement these changes. This should be considered in life cycle assessments where various disposal methods are compared, as well as in policy development where in increasing the lifespan with first user should be focused more on.
Increasing product lifespans is one of the most effective environmental strategies and therefore repair is a part of the circular economy approach that aims to keep products and materials longer in use. This article explores drivers and barriers for repair from consumers' and commercial repair actors' viewpoints , in order to understand how the repair rates of household appliances, mobile phones and clothing could be increased. The study is based on a consumer survey of 1196 respondents in Norway, and 15 qualitative interviews with actors in the commercial repair industry working with repairs of household consumer goods. A surprisingly high share of repairs was conducted by consumers themselves. The main barrier is the consistently low price of new products, and often of poor quality, which contributes to low profitability in repair work for businesses and low motivation from consumers. Furthermore, access to competent personnel is a major challenge for the repair industry, a need which is expected to increase in the coming years. Both the industry and consumers agree that better quality of products is a starting point for increased product lifespans, and this will also increase the motivation and the number of profitable repairs. These results have political implications on how to promote longer product lifespans through repair such as increased utilization and knowledge of consumers' complaint and warranty rights.
Increasing the length of clothing lifespans is crucial for reducing the total environmental impacts. This article discusses which factors contribute to the length of garment lifespans by studying how long garments are used, how many times they are worn, and by how many users. The analysis is based on quantitative wardrobe survey data from China, Germany, Japan, the UK, and the USA. Variables were divided into four blocks related respectively to the garment, user, garment use, and clothing practices, and used in two hierarchical multiple regressions and two binary logistic regressions. The models explain between 11% and 43% of the variation in clothing lifespans. The garment use block was most indicative for the number of wears, while garment related properties contribute most to variation in the number of users. For lifespans measured in years, all four aspects were almost equally important. Some aspects that affect the lifespans of clothing cannot be easily changed (e.g., the consumer's income, nationality, and age) but they can be used to identify where different measures can have the largest benefits. Several of the other conditions that affect lifespans can be changed (e.g., garment price and attitudes towards fashion) through quality management, marketing strategies, information, and improved consumer policies.
Increasing the use of each product, most often called longer lifespans, is an effective environmental strategy. This article discusses how garment lifespans can be described in order to be measured and compared. It answers two sub-questions: (1) what to measure (units), and (2) how to measure (methods). We introduce and define terms related to clothing lifespans and contribute to discussions about an appropriate functional unit for garments in life cycle assessments (LCA) and other environmental accounting tools. We use a global wardrobe survey to exemplify the units and methods. Clothing lifespans can be described and measured in years, the number of wears, cleaning cycles, and users. All have an independent value that show different and central aspects of clothing lifespans. A functional unit for LCAs should emphasise both the number of wears for all users as well as the service lifespan in years. Number of wears is the best measure for regular clothing, while number of years is most suited for occasion wear, because it is important to account for the need of more garments to cover all the relevant occasions during a specified time period. It is possible to study lifespan via carefully constructed surveys, providing key data relating to actual garment use.
Clothing maintenance is necessary for keeping clothing and textiles functional and socially acceptable, but it has environmental consequences due to the use of energy, water and chemicals. This article discusses whether clothes made of different materials are cleaned in different ways and have different environmental impacts. It fills a knowledge gap needed in environmental assessments that evaluate the impacts based on the function of a garment by giving detailed information on the use phase. The article is based on a quantitative wardrobe survey and qualitative laundry diary data from China, Germany, Japan, the UK and the USA. The largest potential for environmental improvement exists in reducing laundering frequency and in the selection of washing and drying processes, and through a transition to fibres that are washed less frequently, such as wool. Adopting best practice garment care would give larger benefits in countries like the US where the consumption values were the highest, mainly due to extensive use of clothes dryers and less efficient washing machines combined with frequent cleaning. These variations should be considered in environmental assessments of clothing and when forming sustainability policies. The results indicate the benefits of focusing future environmental work on consumer habits and culture and not only technologies.