Individual Consumer Decision Making

30 Product Disposal and Disposal Options

The last stage in the Consumer Decision Making Process is . What options do consumers have at the end of a product’s lifecycle? What about when we tire, get bored, or outgrow something we own? Sustainable marketing requires a deliberate attempt to minimize a product’s end-of-life impact on the environment around us. That means consumers need a range of options when they dispose of products they no longer need or want.

The Need for Responsible & Sustainable Disposal Options

There was a time when neither manufacturers nor consumers thought much about how products got disposed of, so long as people bought them. But that’s changed. How products are being disposed of is becoming extremely important to consumers and society in general. Computers and batteries, which leech chemicals into landfills, are a huge problem. Consumers don’t want to degrade the environment if they don’t have to, and companies are becoming more aware of this fact.

Take for example Crystal Light, a water-based beverage that’s sold in grocery stores. You can buy it in a bottle. However, many people buy a concentrated form of it, put it in reusable pitchers or bottles, and add water. That way, they don’t have to buy and dispose of plastic bottle after plastic bottle, damaging the environment in the process. Windex has done something similar with its window cleaner. Instead of buying new bottles of it all the time, you can purchase a concentrate and add water. You have probably noticed that most grocery stores now sell cloth bags consumers can reuse instead of continually using and discarding of new plastic or paper bags.

Other companies are less concerned about conservation than they are about planned obsolescence. is a deliberate effort by companies to make their products obsolete, or unusable, after a period of time. The goal is to improve a company’s sales by reducing the amount of time between the repeat purchases consumers make of products. When a software developer introduces a new version of product, it is usually designed to be incompatible with older versions of it. For example, not all the formatting features are the same in Microsoft Word 2007 and 2010. Sometimes documents do not translate properly when opened in the newer version. Consequently, you will be more inclined to upgrade to the new version so you can open all Word documents you receive.

Products that are are another way in which firms have managed to reduce the amount of time between purchases. Disposable lighters are an example. Do you know anyone today that owns a nondisposable lighter? Believe it or not, prior to the 1960s, scarcely anyone could have imagined using a cheap disposable lighter. There are many more disposable products today than there were in years past—including everything from bottled water and individually wrapped snacks to single-use eye drops and cell phones.

End-of-life disposal options may either extend the life of a product or delay (and maybe even completely omit) its final resting place in a landfill. Marketing’s responsibility doesn’t end at the point of purchase: designing sustainability for the end of the product’s lifecycle should be factored in to the product design and marketing plan from the very beginning. Providing an easy and accessible way for consumers to participate in sustainable end-of-life disposal options can also be a lucrative option for marketers (e.g., Patagonia).

Disposition & Divestment Rituals

is the process users experience when separating from a product. Divestment represents the combination of physical separation and mental and emotional separation processes that users go through when ending the use cycle of a product (Gregson, Metcalfe, & Crewe 2007; Glover, 2012). Divestment is the combination of (i.e., physical separation) and (i.e., mental and emotional separation of the product).

  • Divestment: Overarching term referring to the final phase of the consumption cycle after the purchase and the use phases.
  • Disposition: Physical separation of the product, the visible part of divestment.
  • Detachment: Mental and emotional separation of the product, the invisible part of divestment.

Often when we are trying to “get rid” of things we move them around in our house. Some things, like clothing we’ve outgrown or no long want get stacked in a bedroom closet. Toys that our children no longer want get piled in the basement. Furniture and household items we have replaced with newer items occupy their own distinct territory in the garage. Our physical separation, or disposition, of possessions rarely take a direct route and many people perform their own ritual of collecting and storing items for a while – at least until less or no emotional detachment is holding us back from parting ways.

Recycling, Lateral Cycling, & Upcycling

Most consumers are familiar with – a process of turning waste into another form of new and reusable materials, but many might be surprised to know that recycled goods can sometimes command a premium price. When Canadian fashion retailer Aritzia came out with its signature down jacket the Super Puff, the brand also introduced consumers to its Super (Re) Puff, a version of the same jacket made with regenerated nylon from pre- and post consumer waste (“Aritzia to Launch…”, 2020). Living up to its brand tagline, “Everyday Luxury”, the Super (Re) Puff is priced about $50 more than it’s less sustainably produced counterpart.

occurs when we sell, donate, or give away products to others who may use the products for the same intended purpose or for another purpose entirely. Examples of lateral cycling include disposing our products through garage sales; second-hand stores; online buy and sell communities such as Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, eBay, Kijiji, etc. Lateral cycling can also occur when consumers exchange product ownership and isn’t exclusive to selling used products for profit.

In recent years the term has been used to describe when products get repurposed – almost like having a new or “second life.” The online community and website, “Upcycle That,” defines upcycling as “taking something that’s considered waste and re-purposing it. The upcycled item often becomes more functional or beautiful than what it previously was” (About Upcycling, n.d.).  Thanks to the upcycling process, some items even increase their value and fetch a higher price in the market.

In 2019, Patagonia launched a new product line called, “ReCrafted”, which upcycles waste fabric into unique and one-of-a kind garments (Segran, 2021). According to Alex Kremer, Patagonia’s Director of Worn Wear, the company has created a new revenue stream by upcycling products and selling the new pieces at a premium — something all fashion brands could be doing.

Fast Fashion’s Impact on Disposal

In recent years there has been much criticism of both the business model and practices of those engaged in . From shopping malls, to fashion magazines, to catalogs, to online advertisements, consumers are exposed to countless opportunities to spend money on fashionable apparel that exists within a short time span (Yang et al., 2017). The fast fashion consumer buying trend encourages rampant consumerism because designs are usually based on the most recent fashion trends presented in Fashion Week magazine twice a year (Yang et al., 2017; Hines & Bruce, 2007; Muran, 2007). Because the supply chain – from catwalk to retailer – is well optimized in particular for the design and manufacturing process of clothing collections, consumers are able to purchase the latest trends at a fraction of the cost of original design clothing (Yang et al., 2017; Hines, 2010; Pfeiffer, 2007).

The downside, of course, is that the proliferation of fast fashion combined with lower consumer prices means both purchasing and disposing are happening at a faster pace as well (Yang et al., 2017). Therefore, as Yang et al., discuss, fast fashion has also become associated with “disposable fashion” (Hines, 2007). Not only is fast fashion “leading the way in actual disposable clothing”, Yang et al. write, “it is particularly worrisome for sustainable development, because it creates a demand for cheap clothing and then, ultimately produces and constantly churns out a massive amount of textile waste, accelerating carbon emissions and global warming” (“Where does…clothing go”, 2014).

The evolution of fashion fashion has been captured in the interactive student feature below. Consider how fast fashion has evolved and the factors that have influenced in based on where you live or study.

Student Feature: Fast Fashion Timeline

Explore some of the most significant events in history that have shaped the “fast fashion” culture prevalent in today’s society. Created by KPU students Prabhdeep Kaur, Leo Ng, Carla Flores, and Katie Stutheit. Click on the arrows to the right to move along the timeline.

 

Text Attributions

References

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Aritzia to Launch Super World Pop Up Designed in Collaboration with Willo Perron (2020, October 29). Cision PR Newswire. https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/aritzia-to-launch-super-world-pop-up-designed-in-collaboration-with-willo-perron-301163500.html.

Elkington, J. (1997). Cannibals with forks: The triple bottom line of 21st century business. Oxford: Capstone.

Gregson, N., Metcalfe, A., & Crewe, L. (2007). Moving things along: The conduits and practices of divestment in consumption. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 32, 187–200. DOI https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1475-5661.2007.00253.x.

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Segran, H. (2021, January 11). Patagonia has had enormous success with upcycled clothing. Could other brands follow? Fast Company. https://www.fastcompany.com/90592541/patagonia-has-had-enormous-success-with-upcycled-clothing-could-other-brands-follow.

Yang, S., Yiping S., and Tong, S. (2017, July 19). Sustainable retailing in the Fashion Industry: A Systemic Literature Review. Sustainability, 9(7), 1266. [Special Issue] Sustainability Issues in the Textile and Apparel Supply Chains. https://www.mdpi.com/2071-1050/9/7/1266/htm.

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