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Returning Clothes? You Might as Well Be Getting Paid to Throw Them in a Landfill

It's important to understand the full life cycle of your purchases, even the ones you don't keep. This interview calls out global concerns that have grown with the rise of eCommerce and the influx of returns that inevitably end up in a landfill.

Written by
Mirah Alix

"Do you order different sizes of clothing online, knowing you can return the one that doesn't fit? Did you know the ones you return are sometimes sent straight to landfill?"

This powerful powerful interview with Adria Vasil, an environmental journalist, begins by asking us to consider how our online shopping habits are contributing to land pollution.

In Canada, for example, people return an average of $46 worth of products per year from online orders. Due to the eCommerce boom, returns have increased in volume by 95 percent over 5 years. The unfortunate truth is that many returns—clothing or otherwise—are not put back on the market and are incinerated or trashed instead. Most companies, including Amazon, avoid processing and reselling those returns simply because it costs more than destroying them, with their eyes focused only on the bottom line.

Another culprit may surprise you. Burberry was caught burning returned clothing, bags, and perfume that amounted to £90 million over 5 years. Vasil's theory is that Burberry wanted to maintain their exclusive and high-end image by choosing incineration over donating their brand name clothing to charitable organizations. Luckily, there's still hope. After being exposed and shamed in 2018, Burberry ceased burning their returned goods and is transitioning to donation and repurposing methods.

France has also taken a global lead on this issue by banning the practice of sending damaged or unused products to landfill. And brands like Patagonia are creating and encouraging circular economy processes. They even started selling repaired goods on their site and in store, for a discount.

So, What Can You Do?

1. Avoid "Bracketing"

Aka buying multiple sizes of clothing online so you can try them all on at home and return what doesn't fit.

2. Second Guess Making Returns

Instead of going straight to returning your items, second guess that decision and try gifting, selling, or donating those items instead.

3. Shop Secondhand

Instead of buying new, purchase secondhand goods to eliminate waste and stop more items from ending up in landfills.

4. Buy from Sustainable Brands

When you do buy new, try to buy from sustainable brands that are focused on making the world better.