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Free returns come with an environmental cost


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Free returns come with an environmental cost

Packages leave a trail of pollution, and some end up in landfills



Every single day this December, an estimated 1 million return packages were picked up through UPS alone, and online shoppers are expected to send back even more purchases this holiday season.


Each returned package — regardless of which carrier picks it up — leaves a trail of emissions from the various trains, planes, and giant trucks that carry it back to the seller. That pollution contributes to climate change and worsens air quality. Many of the discarded items head to a landfill. The environmental problem is only getting worse as e-commerce grows and free returns become the expected norm for shopping online.


The biggest flood of returns will come on January 2nd as people head back to work after the holidays, when UPS expects to handle nearly 2 million return packages. That’s a more than 25 percent jump from the packages it handled the previous year on January 2nd, which UPS has dubbed “National Returns Day.” Amazon, which has driven the new shopping trends, just expanded its free return policy and is also delivering more of its own packages than ever. Luckily, there are things both individuals and companies can do to cut back on the boomeranging packages.


Retail consequences


“People need to be aware that there are environmental consequences of sending back their returns. You know, they don’t just go into thin air and disappear,” says Sharon Cullinane, a professor at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden. She began researching what happens to clothing returns after a visit to a warehouse with her students; there, they came across a big pile of shrink-wrapped items in a corner. When she asked what was in the pile, she says she was told: “Those are the returns. Because we don’t know what to do with them, we call them the ‘uglies.’“


About half of the “uglies” that American consumers return go back on sale again, according to research by Optoro, a company that helps retailers like Ikea streamline their returns processes. Retailers might send things back to the manufacturer that they can’t put up for sale again, or they might try to unload it to other companies who sell it at deep discounts.


Wherever the unwanted purchase goes, taking it there means more trucks pumping out more planet-warming carbon emissions and other harmful pollutants. Hauling around returned inventory in the US creates over 15 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually, Optoro found. That’s more than what 3 million cars might put out in one year.


Then there’s the trash. Five billion pounds of returned goods end up in US landfills each year. Even if something was in good condition when the buyer put it in the mailbox, shipping it back can damage the item. Sometimes retailers realize that throwing out a returned item is the most cost-effective way to deal with the thing, instead of paying for it to be cleaned, repaired, and returned to the shelves. “If you’re buying a T-shirt or something like that and it only costs a few dollars, you can understand that the company just cannot afford to do anything but throw that onto the landfill,” Cullinane says. Landfills are filling up with packaging waste from e-commerce, too.


Return revolution

The amount of purchases being returned is climbing and there are spikes after Black Friday and Christmas, Cullinane tells The Verge. That’s thanks in part to the rise of e-commerce. E-commerce has a higher return rate, 20 to 30 percent according to the National Retail Federation, compared to other kinds of purchases (auto parts and consumer electronics trail behind with a roughly 20 percent return rate). Offering hassle-free returns has been a big part of encouraging customers to buy something online that they’ve never actually seen or touched in real life. But that’s led to people buying things just to try something out and return it later. “They’re basically using their home as the changing rooms,” says Cullilane.


Companies that have encouraged these changes in consumer behavior can take steps to minimize returns and make the process less harmful when someone does send something back. For one, they can make sure that the way they market their items online is true to what the product is like in real life. Giving more detailed information on sizing for apparel is helpful, too. Plus more and more brands are offering ways to let prospective shoppers try stuff on virtually.


Advocacy groups like the Environmental Defense Fund are also pushing for companies to electrify delivery vehicles, especially along what’s called “the last mile of delivery.” The last mile refers to the trip from a warehouse or distribution center to someone’s front door (or the reverse, in the case of returns). Warehouses have been popping up closer and closer to neighborhoods in order to meet the growing expectation for fast deliveries, and that means that the air pollution from e-commerce is creeping closer to peoples’ homes. To lessen the environmental and health harms along their supply chains, companies can replace diesel-burning trucks with zero-emissions vehicles. Ikea said that it will start offering zero-emissions delivery in five major cities in 2020. Amazon announced in September that it would order 100,000 electric delivery vans.


Taking those steps makes business sense. Not only can companies save money on costly returns, they can also cater to a new trend: customers caring about how their purchases affect the planet. “You’re inviting a company or product into your home; it’s sometimes a personal expression of your identity,” says Aileen Nowlan, a senior manager at the Environmental Defense Fund. “Consumers are increasingly really caring about all the implications of those decisions.”


If customers want to reduce the environmental impact of their returns, there are a few things they can do:

  • Return items sooner. Waiting until the last minute to send something back increases the chance that the item won’t go back to stock for resale (especially for holiday-themed items that are returned after the holidays)

  • Take items to a collection center for returns, like UPS offers, instead of mailing it off

  • Order just what you need, instead of buying multiple options with the intention of sending some back


Source: Free returns come with an environmental cost  (The Verge)

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Friend of mine works for a waste management company. This time of year, they have to recycle millions of boxes and envelopes. Most Christmas gift wrapping paper cant be recycled as it contains a wax coating, glitter, or some type of plastic embedded into the paper. The biggest problem is with Amazon, if you buy multiple items and send it back in one box, Amazon has a real hard time refunding the order when there is multiple items in box, even when all those items were sent to the same shipping address. Amazon recommends you send each item for return in a separate box, only adding to the waste problem.


Most companies are trying to avoid using those annoying foam peanuts, however, there is growing over packaging problem going on when you buy something. Most children toys for example have some much waste as they are packaged in a box which contains all kinds of plastic ties and other junk that people have no use for.


Electronics are no better, Intel now packages its new 9th generation CPU in a giant blue dome that serves no purpose once opened. 


Edited by virge
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It dont matter if they  return it are not still all the trash has to go somewhere .  China no longer  takes  trash from the USA to recycle  .and towns dont have  the money to recycle .


After decades of earnest public-information campaigns, Americans are finally recycling. Airports, malls, schools, and office buildings across the country have bins for plastic bottles and aluminum cans and newspapers. In some cities, you can be fined  if inspectors discover that you haven’t recycled appropriately.


But now much of that carefully sorted recycling is ending up in the trash.


For decades, we were sending the bulk of our recycling to China—tons and tons of it, sent over on ships to be made into goods such as shoes and bags and new plastic products. But last year, the country restricted imports of certain recyclables, including mixed paper—magazines, office paper, junk mail—and most plastics. Waste-management companies across the country are telling towns, cities, and counties that there is no longer a market for their recycling. These municipalities have two choices: pay much higher rates to get rid of recycling, or throw it all away.


Most are choosing the latter. “We are doing our best to be environmentally responsible, but we can’t afford it,” said Judie Milner, the city manager of Franklin, New Hampshire. Since 2010, Franklin has offered curbside recycling and encouraged residents to put paper, metal, and plastic in their green bins. When the program launched, Franklin could break even on recycling by selling it for $6 a ton. Now, Milner told me, the transfer station is charging the town $125 a ton to recycle, or $68 a ton to incinerate. One-fifth of Franklin’s residents live below the poverty line, and the city government didn’t want to ask them to pay more to recycle, so all those carefully sorted bottles and cans are being burned. Milner hates knowing that Franklin is releasing toxins into the environment, but there’s not much she can do. “Plastic is just not one of the things we have a market for,” she said.



Your much better off sending it back  to  Amazon  than some places


Amazon to save merchandise from the trash, donating items instead in a new program



Every year websites  post  these  topics about  returns and people have always returned  stuff to stores and the trash problem just gets worse  so there liberal articles dont help improve  it.


There's a good chance your holiday returns will end up in a landfill  2017




Only thing that improves it is for retailers to start programs to  donate returns  to the needy like Amazon  has done  . Donations are  a tax write off so  you  get a tax break for doing it. ;)


But still in the long term  it dont help with ewaste or warping you have to depose of warping regardless and companies like Apple , Microsoft  and others making products  you can't repair so people put them in the trash and buy a new one. Also  thats the price of making  stuff  overseas i use to work in plastics and we used  so much recycled plastic   and China and other countries  took the trash to recycle because the USA bought goods from them . Now they no longer taking waste  and since  it's not made in the USA   it not profitable  to recycle  anymore. 


You expect people not to  buy stuff?  if no one didn't retailers  would not exist . Many of the websites make a living  promoting products that contribute to the waste problem but they not  going pay for  no towns recycling bill  and help out ,  it cost money to recycle . They need to make a law that the retailers that cause all  this waste foot the bill !


Edited by steven36
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