Swedish researchers report that items ordered from web shops that are returned relatively often end up on the scrap heap. The value of textiles and electronics returned and destroyed in the EU by 2022 is estimated to be around €22 billion.
According to the researchers The total value of returned clothing and electronic products sent back in the EU last year comes to €21.74 billion based on some calculations, but some believe the true cost is even higher. The survey does not reveal how high that figure was in previous years.
According to Lund University’s Carl Dalhammar, there’s a blunt reality: throwing stuff away is the lesser of second evils from a financial point of view. This is especially the case with goods that are cheap relative to the cost of researching, repackaging and reselling. The researchers state that companies usually throw away returned products.
The research also points out that internet purchases have become increasingly common and that also entails more returns. Industry data suggests that returning items is happening more often, something that can be explained, for example, by the fact that returns are often free.
Talks with textile industry
The researchers from Sweden’s Lund University have spoken to members of the textile and electronics industry in Europe to share their findings, in order to gain a better understanding of this problem, which they say little research has been done on. The destruction of returned products is widespread within the textile and electronics industries, partly because there is a large number of different products in both sectors and there are also enough cheap items being sold.
According to the researchers, a ban on throwing out returned items is not necessarily the solution; such a ban exists, for example, in France. They believe that offering the returned near-new products to charities or thrift stores impacts the value of the companies’ regular product lines and sometimes these are fragile items or products that can break relatively quickly and thrift stores wouldn’t need that. to have.
The research suggests that a mandatory return rate could be a good first step, although its usefulness is also questionable. If returning cheap items becomes relatively expensive or more expensive, consumers would still be more likely to throw them away. The researchers argue that with regard to the textile sector, it would especially help if there was less mass production of cheap goods that only last a single season. This business model also depletes natural resources and is highly dependent on labor in poor countries.