Nearly everyone in the UK shops online in some capacity nowadays. In fact, according to the Office for National Statistics, internet sales as a percentage of all retail sales peaked yet again at 30.7% in 2021, having consistently increased year-on-year since 2007.
Unfortunately, online shopping is not perfect. No doubt you have experienced a time when you have opened an Amazon package, only to see the wrong item ensconced within.
Maybe you have torn open some packaging to sadly find that your purchase has been damaged or broken in transit?
Or perhaps you have a habit of a practice called “wardrobing”, buying two or even three pieces of clothing in different sizes, trying them all on, and only keeping the one that best fits while the others are returned to the seller?
You may even have simply changed your mind about your purchase in the usually short window between excitedly clicking buy and the goods turning up on your doorstep a few days later.
Unfortunately, there is an issue with returning your goods. Did you know that rather than going back on sale, your returned goods are likely to be going straight into the bin?
Read on to find out more, and what you can do about it.
Nearly 6 billion pounds of returned goods go into landfill
You might think that companies purveying goods online would have thought to build the infrastructure that would allow them to receive and sort returned goods.
But statistics from returns logistics provider, Optoro, published by CNBC paint a very different picture.
According to Optoro, nearly 6 billion pounds – around 2.7 billion kilograms – of returned goods end up on a journey straight to the dump each year.
In the process, this sees 16 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions released into the atmosphere, too, all for items that go to waste entirely.
The reason for this is equally understandable and nauseating: it generally is not profitable for companies to put mechanisms in place that allow goods to be returned, sorted, and put back on the shelf if they are still in good shape.
This puts consumers in the difficult position of knowing that there is a chance their returns will end up in landfill, despite the best intentions when sending it back to the retailer.
3 tips for more eco-conscious shopping
As you can see, returns present a serious blackspot on the environmentally friendliness of buying goods online.
To help combat this issue, here are three ways you can ensure your shopping is as eco-conscious as possible.
1. Sell or give away unwanted items
Obviously, the first way to solve your contribution to this issue is to stop returning goods if they are no longer what you want.
Instead, you could consider selling them or even giving them away. There are many online marketplaces where you can sell unwanted items, from eBay to Depop.
The only downside is that these can be competitive sites where your items may not sell. In that case, you could even give them away for free to charity shops instead. At the very least, that would see your goods go anywhere other than the dump.
Of course, in some cases this is not going to be a viable option. For example, a pair of shoes with a broken sole have little to no use to you or anyone else, so returning them for your money back might be your only course of action.
But for items that you decide you no longer want, do not fit, or are the wrong product entirely, consider giving them away or selling them so that they go to a new home, rather than into landfill.
2. Do your shopping in stores
While it may be inconvenient, you may be able to make a difference by shopping instore instead.
This combats a number of the issues that cause many online goods to have to go back.
For example, trying on a piece of clothing before you buy means you will already know that it is the right size before you go to wear it at home.
Similarly, you might notice a rip or a defect in person, and so can avoid buying such items entirely.
Meanwhile, items are less likely to be damaged or broken on their way home with you compared to being thrown around in a limp piece of corrugated cardboard when out for delivery.
According to Optoro CEO, Tobin Moore, items bought online are three times more likely to be returned than those bought in store.
So, you may be able to reduce how many of your returned goods go to landfill by shopping at physical stores instead.
3. Check what individual retailers do with returns
If you want to keep shopping online but also want to help reduce the nefarious effect of returned goods going straight to landfill, you could instead choose to check which retailers do dispose of items responsibly.
Many businesses now make such guarantees on their websites, including Asos among others. Indeed, even Amazon has made a commitment to stop goods going straight to landfill.
So, by choosing to support retailers that promise not to let brand-new items go to waste, you can be confident that you are not contributing to this issue.