Free returns aren't free for the planet

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Free returns aren't free for the planet


47% of clothes ordered online are sent back. The free return service has been a building block of the success of online fashion brands but new campaign, Highway Fitting, wants to highlight how unsustainable this is.

Georgina Wilson-Powell

Tue 18 Dec 2018

Just under half of all fashion bought online is sent back, it's a crazy statistic but unsurprising in our world of instant gratification and speed of light fast fashion trend cycle. 

What is seen as a logistical perk by many actually is incredibly damaging to the environment says Highway Fitting, a new campaign being run with Fashion Revolution Week.

Chloé Mikolajczak, Country Coordinator of Fashion Revolution Belgium says: "Instead of the two-way drive of a delivery van bringing a package to you, it now has to drive back to your house to return it to the retailer. It literally doubles the amount of kilometres a truck is on the road because you didn’t like what you ordered. On a global scale, this has a massive impact on the environment and traffic."

The campaign has released a short video, made by Belgian producers,, that highlights this huge amount of energy, time and emissions.

Check out the Highway Fitting film here

The campaign argues that social media has a huge role to play in this new phenomenon, through popular hashtags like #ootd (#outfitoftheday) on Instagram. 

Nearly one in five 35-44 year-olds admit they have worn clothes once to post them on social media.

Add to this the amount of different sizes of clothes ordered because you can't try stuff on, different colours and styles and multiple this globally and we've got a big issue in a fashion industry that's already plagued by environmental issues - from toxic textile dying to energy emissions, modern slavery and so on.

Fashion Revolution has four simple tips for people who want to cut down on their online ordering impact:

  • Reduce your overall consumption

Think around the 'buy less, buy better' model. Think about #30wears rather than buying once for a party, washing your clothes lessbuying secondhand or swapping and swishing. 

Extending the life of clothing by nine months reduces carbon, waste and water by 20-30%.

  • Try and order the right size

If you can't try it on, then spend a little bit more time working out which size will fit best rather than ordering several.

  • Always select group packages

Do you really need everything instantly? Can you wait to receive everything together so there are less van journeys and less parcels going out?

  • Try not to return

If it's really no good, can you resell it online, give it a friend or donate it instead?

For more ethical fashion advice, head to Fashion Revolution.