February 20, 2019

Returned clothing is affecting the environment alongside over-production

Returned clothing's effects on the enviroment

Free delivery and returns policies seem positive but there are significant hidden environmental costs with returned clothing. The fashion media space is not short of articles that tell us the perils of over-production on the environment and the value of the industry as a whole. Now that e-commerce has grown to take up 27% of all apparel sales, over-production is more threatening than ever. This said, another problem plagues the world of fashion thanks to the growing presence of online sales: returned items.

The environmental costs of free shipping

Buying clothing online presents a much larger risk of buying the wrong size or for example finding that the color of an item is different in person. Because of this, online stores are under pressure to give the best returns policies possible, with most e-commerce websites now offering free returns. A free returns policy, although helpful in the right cases, inspires unsustainable practices. It is not uncommon that a customer will buy several sizes to try on before returning all but one, or even a customer buying an outfit to pose for a picture, knowing that it will be returned.

Significant amounts of returned clothing

A recent survey showed that 40% of all online clothing purchases are returned. The cost of this takes the form of huge pollution due to delivery services. Lorries shuttle goods back and forth, no longer to clusters of malls or shops but to individual homes. What’s more, returned clothing often cannot be resold due to imperfections, ending its life in a landfill.

Belgian company Fashion Revolution recommends knowing your size for companies you buy from regularly, grouping several purchases into one package, and buying fewer but higher quality garments.

Learning that free delivery policies carry hidden costs to the environment is–we hope–one more step towards a more sustainable fashion industry.

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