The environmental impact of Returns

The environmental impact of each product return can vary depending on factors like the type of product, its packaging, the distance it travels, and the mode of transportation. However, it’s difficult to provide specific stats on the number of trees cut or air pollution generated for each individual return. Instead, we can look at the broader environmental impact of returns in general.

According to a report by Optoro, a technology company that helps retailers manage returns, the annual cost of returned items in the United States alone amounts to about $550 billion, with around 5 billion pounds of waste generated and 15 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emitted. These numbers underscore the significant environmental impact of product returns.

Here are some general statistics on the environmental impact of returns:

  1. Carbon emissions: Shipping returns contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, particularly when they are transported by air. The EPA estimates that for every mile a diesel-powered truck travels, it emits 22.38 pounds of CO2. Air transport generates even higher emissions, with a commercial airplane emitting approximately 53 pounds of CO2 per mile.
  2. Packaging waste: Returned items often require new packaging, which can contribute to deforestation, waste, and pollution. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) estimates that approximately 3 billion trees are cut down every year for paper packaging.
  3. Landfill waste: Many returned items, particularly those that are damaged or cannot be resold, end up in landfills. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that in 2018, the U.S. generated 292.4 million tons of municipal solid waste, with 146.1 million tons ending up in landfills.
  4. Resource consumption: The production and transport of returned items consume resources like energy, water, and raw materials. The more returns a brand processes, the greater its resource consumption and environmental footprint.

While these statistics don’t provide an exact breakdown of the environmental impact per return, they highlight the importance of reducing returns for the sake of the planet. Solutions like REKEEPIT and FitCertificate can play a significant role in minimizing the environmental consequences of product returns by encouraging customers to keep their purchases and providing alternatives to traditional return processes.