Personal Factors Related to Consumer Product Disposal Tendencies

By Harrell, Gilbert D.; McConocha, Diane M. | The Journal of Consumer Affairs, Winter 1992 | Go to article overview

Personal Factors Related to Consumer Product Disposal Tendencies


Harrell, Gilbert D., McConocha, Diane M., The Journal of Consumer Affairs


The ways consumers dispose of usable but no longer wanted products has become an increasingly important issue. While consumers select, acquire, use, and dispose of products, most researchers have focused on the first part of the cycle, limiting attention to brand choice and product acquisition (Rassuli and Harrell 1990). A few consumer theorists have noted that usage and disposition are both important aspects of consumer behavior (Holbrook 1987; Jacoby 1976; Nicosia and Mayer 1976), and the last phase of the process is now receiving increasing public attention. Recently, disposal has been added to definitions of consumer behavior in textbooks and has been highlighted as a relevant topic for research. Consumer researchers introduced disposal as an important topic in the late 1970s (Jacoby, Berning, and Dietvorst 1977); Hanson (1980b) developed a useful model of several salient factors involved in the disposition decision process. After a flurry of interest in consumer disposal in the early 1980s, research attention appears to have faded, although disposal has grown to be of considerable consequence to business, government, and consumer groups. Clearly, in light of current public concern about recycling and the worldwide landfill crisis, research in this area is both intellectually relevant and operationally timely.

This study investigates the rationales consumers use when selecting prevalent disposition options (keep, throw away, sell, donate with tax deduction, donate without tax deduction, and pass along) and continues the research stream initiated by Hanson (1980a). Essentially, a field study was conducted with consumers to learn more about how their characteristics relate to the selection of several important disposition options. Before presenting the research, a background discussion of disposal issues and research helps position this study. Secondly, a modified taxonomy and several research propositions are offered. Next, the study design and its findings are presented, followed by implications and directions for future research.

BACKGROUND

Post consumption impact of trashing products has become a grassroots public concern, encompassing issues such as disposal of goods, environmental protection, and recycling in an era of diminishing landfill capacity. Corson (1990) reported that in 1978 the United States had 20,000 landfills; by 1988, the number had dropped to 6,000 with 80 percent of solid waste going into landfills. In the past five years, 3,000 of these have been closed; by 1993, about 2,000 more will cease operations. While waste management organizations are constantly seeking sites for new landfills, the NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) syndrome makes it difficult to expand.

Although consumers have many disposal options, disposal by trashing carries few negative consequences. Useful resources go unconsumed; with antiquated landfills not governed by recent regulations for clay or plastic liners, contaminants may seep into the water table (Commoner 1971), excrete noxious fumes, and/or spontaneously combust (Boraiko 1985; Corson 1990; Nichols 1988). Little wonder why landfills, which are often unsightly and expensive to build and maintain, are in limited supply (Corson 1990; U.S. Environmental Protection Agency 1988; White 1983). Pollock (1987) has pointed out the difficulties municipalities face in attempting to manage the burgeoning solid waste created by consumers. She further notes that the recycling solution depends upon the cooperation of consumers as well as on the availability of markets for recovered materials. There is evidence that curbside recycling programs can be extremely expensive to taxpayers, relative to dumping, and are economically wasteful (Wiseman 1991). A number of new enterprises have arisen, directly or indirectly, from the trash that threatens to overwhelm us (Brammer 1986). Combined with manufacturer attention to eliminate product waste (Center for National Policy 1988), extending product life through disposition alternatives could reduce waste and resource depletion (Box 1983). …

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