Returned Goods End Up in Landfill

Each year, 5 billion pounds of waste is generated through returned goods.

It’s something I’d never even considered! My returned goods may end up in landfill!! I’d always assumed that the too small shoes or itchy jumper I sent back to the online shop would end up back on the shelf to be resold.
Not so! The truth is, much of it ends up in landfill! That is, once it’s been shipped all over the country, or even the globe, a few times.

Each year in the US alone, customers return approximately 3.5 billion products, of which only 20% are actually defective, according to Optoro, a company which specialises in returns logistics.
The flow of goods to customers and back to retailers is flawed both from an economic and environmental perspective.
“We know that many of the products that are returned end up in landfill before we even use them, which only adds to the vast amounts of used items already ending up in landfill… These products use precious resources which are becoming scarce and we are throwing them away unnecessarily,” says Sarah Needham from the Centre for Sustainable Fashion at University of the Arts London.

Our returns not only create a giant carbon footprint but a real problem for companies. The new pair of shoes you sent back, with the opened box and untied laces, needs to be handled differently from a t-shirt with a rip in it. Many companies simply don’t have the technology in place to handle these variations in returned goods, so it is often most profitable for them to sell them cheaply to discounters via a web of shipping, driving and flying them around the globe, or to simply truck them to the dump.

The returns system is horrendously inefficient according to Carly Llewellyn, Senior Director of Marketing at Optoro.“Historically the way retailers have handled returns is they get a bunch of items back to a store or warehouse, usually they’ll sit for several months because they don’t have tech to know what to do with them, eventually they’ll go to a wholesaler or liquidator, through all these middlemen to try and resell them. It’s bad for the environment – as items are shipped around the country so much – and bad for retailers who make hardly any money.”
Optoro estimate that 5 billion pounds of waste are generated through returns each year, contributing 15 million metric tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere!

Clothes and shoes already go through so many environmentally harmful processes, from making the fabric (often out of fossil fuels) to dyeing it using toxic chemicals. Mass manufacturing in factories pumps carbon emissions into the air, and clothes are then shipped across the globe multiple times, only to ultimately end up in a pile on a landfill site because they couldn’t easily be routed to a new home.

It’s an issue we don’t tend to hear much about. We know that sourcing fashion items like cotton, leather and wool can cause habitat degradation, and that manufacturing processes cause climate change and pollute our oceans (17-20% of all industrial water pollution is caused by dying textiles in manufacturing, according to a 2016 report by the International Union for Conservation of Nature). But what about the rest of the fashion supply chain?

Optoro believes it has a viable solution. Its software helps retailers and manufacturers resell unsold and excess items more easily. They offer a multitude of options for retailers, including a website to re-sell their goods, called Blinq, as well as helping with re-routing items to donation, store shelves, Amazon or eBay. They estimate their work helps reduce landfill waste by 70%.

Extracted from: ‘Your brand new returns end up in landfill’ By Harriet Constable. Thanks to BBC Earth – For the full article please visit BBC Earth Blog

But we could all help here. It seems quite acceptable these days to order a selection of, say, 10 dresses to try on at home for size and to see if they suit us, keep a couple and return the rest. I even heard a comedian on TV the other night saying that she’d ordered an expensive dress, wore it for a special occasion, and then returned it the next day. “Well, we all do that don’t we?” she, and the audience, laughed! Not such a laughing matter when you know the facts is it!?