Ending fast fashion is the only way to end the trend of online returns. Researchers have found that it is easier for e-commerce companies to throw away returned items rather than selling them again.
- High volumes of returns increase fossil-fuel emissions, thanks to more freight journeys. But what is not widely known is that companies — often ones who nurture a sustainable, carbon neutral profile — usually throw away the products that are sent back.
- The total value of returned textile and electronic products destroyed in the EU could be as much as €21.74 billion in 2022, according to some calculations. Some believe the true cost to be higher still.
- The findings are from new research at Lund University in Sweden.
- Carl Dalhammar, senior lecturer at the International Institute for Industrial Environmental Economics at Lund University, alongside colleagues Hedda Roberts, Leonidas Milios and Oksana Mont, recently wrote an article featuring interviews with eleven representatives of the clothing and electronics industries.
The Context: Internet shopping now comes with more returns: previous studies have shown that digital commerce generates significantly more returned products than shopping in shops.
- According to industry data, the trend of returning items looks to be on the increase, something that might be explained by the fact that shipping returns back is usually free.
Bans Not an Answer: After their investigations, Dalhammar and his colleagues concluded that dealing with the problem is not that easy. A ban on throwing away returned items has been introduced in France, but it is not straightforward.
- If companies are forced to give away unsold products in as-new condition to charity or second-hand shops, the value of the companies’ ordinary product range is devalued.
- Or you might have five lorries filled with the same clothes, there are no second-hand shops that can take on those quantities. Another example would be low-quality products, such as cheap headphones that break almost immediately.
- Second-hand shops do not want to sell them at all.
- One first step would be to introduce a compulsory fee on returns instead. Certain clothing brands have already introduced fees on their own initiative, but for the most part, return parcels remain free of charge.
- Companies quickly recoup the extra costs for returns, including free postage, since in total the customers who make returns still generate more profit for e-commerce than those who do not send returns.