Where does your product go when it is returned?

The environmental issue of product returns

The popularity of online shopping has skyrocketed over the years, due to the simplicity and convenience it provides, and this trend is only expected to continue. The COVID-19 pandemic also resulted in many of us being cooped up in our homes for months. This has had a lasting impact on our shopping habits, with many retailers switching their focus from high street to online. However, with the growth of online shopping also comes the issue of increased product returns.

online shopping

In fact, the product return rate for e-commerce stores stands at over 30%, in comparison to 8.89% for brick-and-mortar stores. However, this doesn’t just impact businesses. Did you know that every year 5 billion pounds worth of product returns end up in landfill?  Many assume that the items they return simply go back on sale, however some retailers find it cheaper to send these returns to landfill, rather than hire extra staff to deal with them. This of course has a large environmental impact, estimated to be generating 15 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide every year! This issue is particularly bad in the clothing industry, with a huge 84% of returns ending up in landfill.

product returns landfill

What can we do to tackle this issue?


There are things that you can do as a customer to shop more sustainably online. The first thing you can do is to research companies and find out more about their commitment to sustainability. Many companies have an Environmental/Sustainability policy that you can find on their website. Our Environmental Policy at Fairwayrock can be found here. This highlights our commitment to reducing the amount of waste produced, and working closely with our stakeholders to foster environmental awareness.

Secondly, as a consumer you can make the choice to shop more responsibly. These days it is quite common for someone to order a dress in a few different sizes or colours, with the intention of returning most of them. In fact, Barclaycard research found that 30% of shoppers intentionally over-purchase and then return unwanted items. This seems harmless, but it is likely to be contributing to your carbon footprint. It is important to think carefully about your purchases, and pay attention to details such as product measurements and photos. This should reduce the number of times that you need to return items.

Lastly, researching products is another important thing you can do to ensure that you are making the right purchase. Things like customer reviews can help you decide whether a product is suitable for your needs.


Businesses can also play an important role in addressing this issue. The main thing a business can do is to commit to reducing its waste, with products being re-sold or recycled wherever possible. This is increasingly important as consumers become more conscious of how their purchases affect the planet.

environmental awareness

Consumer insights is another valuable way that businesses can reduce product returns. One main reason for returns is sizing issues, so retailers should ensure that product measurements are clear and accurate. Another common returns reason is “item not as described”. This emphasises the importance of clear product descriptions, and high-quality photos. Many retailers now offer 3D visualisation and product videos to give customers a better feel of the product they will receive. Another common return reason is that the item is incorrect or damaged. Businesses should have a thorough quality control process in place, and should ensure that items are packaged securely. This should help reduce these issues.

We hope this blog has helped you gain a better understanding of the environmental impact of product returns, and what you can do to make a difference!

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