What Happens to our Online Shopping Returns?

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A large stack of cardboard boxes, envelopes and a cylinder are sitting inside a door of an office.
 (Getty Images)

Americans are doing a lot more of their shopping online, and thanks to generous return policies we’re also sending back more of the stuff that doesn’t fit, doesn’t work or just doesn’t look like its JPG. Many of us even regularly buy clothes in multiple sizes and colors and simply send back anything that we don’t like the look of. But very little of what we return, from bathing suits to defective barbeque grills, is repaired or resold as new. Returned inventory created 9.5 billion pounds of landfill waste last year, according to one estimate. And the shipping of returned inventory in the US, to retailers, resellers and repairers, emitted over 24 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2022. We’ll talk about the logistics of the reverse supply chain and the environmental consequences of all the stuff we buy and don’t want.


Amanda Mull, staff writer, The Atlantic - who writes the column “Material World” on American consumerism

Tobin Moore, co-founder and principal, Optoro - a returns technology company