Another Amazon problem: its returns do not return

But it’s not only Amazon.

Another Amazon problem: its returns do not return /img/amazon-waste-petition.jpg

Three CBC journalists have a sadly great, long report on how items returned by online shoppers are just tossed in the garbage

Countless perfectly good returned items are being liquidated by the truckload - and even destroyed or sent to landfill. Only a minority is actually resold to new customers by Amazon.

Just one e-waste recycling facility in Canada told the reporters that they get, on average, a few truckloads of Amazon returns every week, and “We’re not the only ones. We couldn’t handle all of Amazon. There’s no way”.

Before reaching their final dumpster, many of the same items travel hundreds of kilometers adding waste and pollution to waste and pollution.

Amazon commented the article saying that “that investigation is inconsistent with the company’s findings”.

What YOU really need to know about these returns

This “return waste” problem exists with all e-commerce giants, not just Amazon.

The real problem here is not Amazon: it’s too easy online returns.

The main reason for not buying online may not be “sustaining your local businesses”, but returning less stuff, because it is more expensive, and more inconvenient. Professor Lyons, interviewed in the article, said that “30 to 40 per cent of all online purchases are sent back [versus] less than ten per cent for merchandise bought at bricks and mortar stores”.

What to do about it

As much as I despise Amazon, I acknowledge that sometimes I have had no other choice, in the current situation, than buy stuff from their platform. However, I have never “bought” anything just with the intention of trying it and sending it back. In practice, the only solution for a problem like this is probably a combination of personal and regulation changes like this:

  • Never “buy” anything just to try it, like ordering four pair of pants, just to try which color looks best on you
  • Treat it like smoking, that is: Kindly, but firmly suggest to everybody you find bragging about it to quit.
  • support company-driven or public regulations that impose penalties for “serial returners”, e.g. something like “no free returns. First return is 5% of the price, second is 10%, all the others 20%"

Image source: banner of a petition to “Tell Amazon it’s time to adopt “waste-free” packaging”