The Environmental Impact of Returning Your Unwanted On-line Purchases

Returning, Recycling & Rehoming: The Story of Your Unwanted Purchases

Recently, ITV uncovered the truth behind Amazon destroying millions of items of unsold stock in its UK warehouses. These destroyed goods cover everything including new/unused TVs, laptops, and many other electronics. The unsold or returned items are put in boxes labelled ‘destroy’ and end up at landfill sites. An undercover ITV investigator discovered that one Amazon warehouse in the UK had a target to destroy 130,000 items a week… But WHY?!

The answer is simple - Amazon’s phenomenally successful business model. The way in which the multi-billion-pound company has been so fortunate, is by having vendors house their products in the warehouse. However, the longer the goods are left unsold, the more it costs to continue storing them in the warehouse - it actually works out cheaper to dispose of them, rather than to keep them. This disposal culture has been prevalent for many years now and is causing significant damage to our environment. It is high time the government stepped in and brought legislation into place to prevent this from continuing!

With this discussion on many consumers' lips, it has led to a large number of us asking the question: where does my rubbish end up? Well for starters, our recycling doesn’t always get recycled… Shiploads are sent to places like Turkey and China, where the majority of it is dumped or ends up in the sea.

So, what happens when we return clothes from online shops? Well, the purchases enter something called the reverse supply chain. The reverse supply chain is the series of activities required to retrieve a used product from a customer and either dispose of it or reuse it. Unfortunately, purchases often end up either in landfills or incinerated. The transportation of returns alone contributes 15 million metric tons of carbon dioxide!

The pressure on retailers is a large reason as to why our returns end up in landfills. The demand for extra warehouse space adds an expensive layer to the bottom line, with returns costing retailers a staggering £60 billion (⅓ of which is generated online). After items have been returned, less than half of them go back on sale!

What can we, as consumers, do to reduce the environmental impact of shopping online? Well, there’s actually a lot!

Think Twice

When ordering something online, it’s always helpful to really think things through. Do you really need it, or is it an impulse buy? What is the carbon footprint of this product? Will it get thrown away if it’s returned? Taking your time to consider all aspects of your purchase and practicing conscious consumerism can help reduce the environmental impact of online shopping.

Purchase From Retailers Committed to Lowering Environmental Impact

If you really do want something online, do some research and, where possible, try to buy from retailers who are committed to practicing sustainable ecommerce. For example, Etsy offers zero emissions shipping, while ASOS bans serial returners from their website, and Zalando use reusable packing.

Choosing Eco-friendly Delivery Options

Amazon now offers shipment bundles, where all your purchases are delivered together on the same day which not only reduces emissions, also saves on packaging and cardboard as well as saving you money! Many retailers also offer carbon neutral shipping. You can also cut out the last mile of emissions by choosing click and collect, and collecting your parcel from either in-store or various pickup locations.

Finding A New Home For Unwanted Items

Did your purchase not fulfill your needs, but you can’t quite bring yourself to return it? Not to worry! There are several ways you can find a new home for it. You can make some of your money back by selling items on apps such as Depop and Vinted, or simply donating items to charity shops. Another way to rehome unwanted purchases is by doing a clothes swap with friends - you never know what gems you may come across!

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