What happens to clothes when they are returned?

Recently more consumers have been shopping online, which is excellent for public health and sort of better for the environment (read the "What will our shopping habits look like after COVID-19?" article here). However, with an increase in online shopping comes an increase in returns. The National Federation of Retailers said that in January 2017, right after the holidays, U.S. consumers were expected to return $30 billion worth of goods, accounting for roughly 9% of all e-commerce sold. That's about 5.8 million packages. The amount of returned items has been increasing since 2009 and continues to rise. Not only do all of these returns cause an increase in greenhouse gas emissions but as it turns out, returned clothing causes a lot of physical pollution as well. Several reports have confirmed that returned items "often" get sent to the landfill, even if they are not used or damaged. In 2016, over 4 billion pounds of landfill waste was generated when "processing" consumer returns. Optoro, a company that aims to improve "reverse logistics" of returns, says that just 50% of products sent back go into store inventory again. The rest of the returned merchandise is shipped to resellers and sometimes ends up at your local secondhand store. Any clothing that can't be sold by resellers gets sent to the landfill.

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