The true cost of free returns: are they that great?

Photo: SounderBruce/Wikipedia (licensed under Creative Commons)

How amazing are free returns? No need to go places and see people. No pressure when choosing a size. Hell, I can just send it back if I don’t like it! Also no need to stress over Christmas presents anymore! Just exchange it if they don’t like it! Beyond the fact that such an attitude is kind of ruining the value of a thoughtful present, how about the cost of these free returns?

Did you know?

On 2 January, the United Parcel Service (UPS) announced that it was likely to process a whopping 1.9 million e-commerce returns, on what is now known as National Returns Day. To this, you can also add the millions of returns processed in December, throughout the year, and through other posting services! This comes as e-commerce sales consistently increase, with return policies becoming more and more permissive. Amazon announced in December that it would expand its free return policy to millions of items during the holiday window that lasts until 31 January. Yay?

Well hold your horse. Because the environmental cost of such a luxury is just enormous! Firstly, the items that are being returned do not go back on the shelf. They mostly end up on landfills that contribute to the release of 15 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Still hyped about the power to return every tiny item you drunkenly bought at 1AM last week? Then also take into account all the traffic and subsequent CO2 emissions that are needed to return the items to the warehouse.

E-commerce has become one of the main causes of CO2 emissions worldwide. It does not mean that you should stop buying stuff online. It simply means that maybe you don’t need that Trump printed toilet paper to be delivered the next day. Give it time, it will arrive, don’t worry!

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