The environmental cost of company returns is frankly massive. Up to a quarter of such items end up in landfill, simultaneously hindering profits and the planet. Here’s why it doesn’t have to be this way.
What do you do when those new Yeezy crocs come out the box a tad too snug, or that ‘khaki’ coat turns up in a garish lime green? You box the items back up and return them, of course.
What you probably didn’t know, however, is that the product you just angrily stamped and left with the post office has a very decent chance of ending up in landfill or being torched.
Considering we’re already tittering on the cusp of irreversible climate damage, this seems unnecessary and abhorrently wasteful, right? But, here’s why things currently play out this way in the ceaseless retail world.
The current state of play
There’s a reason the fashion industry makes up a reported 10% of all global emissions.
Despite the continued rise of circular fashion, and nifty apps like Depop and Vinted – here’s Thred’s guide on resale if you’re interested – up to a quarter of all retail bought items end up being thoughtlessly tossed away by their sellers.
This results in some 27 million tons of carbon dioxide annually, with global brands like H&M, Burberry, Nike (and countless others, no doubt) having been outed for burning perfectly good stock instead of donating or reselling it.
In-fact, in the grand scheme of things, only an estimated 20% of the 3.5bn returned products each year are deemed beyond repair. Yet, the equivalent of 10bn pounds ends up in landfill regardless, according to impact reports.
If you’re suddenly feeling guilty for a post-Christmas re-boxing spree, or sending back the drunken purchase of a needless margarita machine, don’t stress it. You’re well within your rights to do so, and the burden of responsibility lays with the retailers.
The main problem is, when it comes to these companies, returns simply aren’t good for profit margins.
Processing the average return usually results in a 59% hit to the price it was originally sold for, and thus the priority is to dispose of them as quickly and cheaply as possible – even if they’ve barely left the box and remain in mint condition. Grim, eh?
Many of these giant brands may appear to be ‘socially conscious’ on the surface, but in reality, sustainability and profitability are usually viewed as being at odds. Here’s why it doesn’t have to be that way.