Exposing the Environmental Cost of Fast Consumption & Return Culture (4/28/2022)

Mar 15, 2023 Annie Cao

Remember those exciting trips to the mall with your friends to try on clothes or hang out at the food court? Or passing by window displays eyeing that item you really wanted? Of course, malls and in-person shopping are still around, but it’s clear that e-commerce now dominates the shopping realm. With just a few clicks, you can add almost anything to your virtual cart and have it shipped right to your doorstep. These digital advancements have made life much more convenient, but at what cost?


How Much Waste Does Online Shopping Create?

Most people only see the parts of online shopping where they make an order and it shows up at their home. But behind the scenes, there are many steps that happen between that “buy now” button and delivery day.

Within the e-commerce supply chain, companies are manufacturing products that are stored in warehouses. When someone makes a purchase, their order is fulfilled and shipped out. But sourcing materials, shipping items, and shipping back returns emit harmful greenhouse gasses that have a negative impact on the planet. And in many cases, returned goods end up in the landfill. According to reports, returns account for approximately 5 billion pounds of waste and 15 million tons of carbon emissions produced in the United States alone.


Why are Returns Thrown Away?

Assessing and repackaging items to resell is time-consuming and costly, so products are thrown out, regardless if they’re brand new or used. This is especially true for large businesses — for example, you may have seen fast fashion stores with website banners advertising hundreds or thousands of new styles arriving daily. For these brands, discarding cheaply made products is more convenient than having excess inventory.  And with more than 2 billion people making online purchases and over $4 trillion in e-retail sales annually, it doesn't look like fast consumption will be slowing down anytime soon.

Tips for a Greener Shopping Experience

The reality is that we can’t always make perfect purchases. Returns are a normal part of shopping, but there are ways we can reduce waste and lower carbon emissions.

  1. If possible, try to make your purchases and returns in an actual store. Shopping in-person will potentially lower the chances of returning products because you can check the quality before buying.
  2. Donate your items. Whether you’re dropping them off at a secondhand store or giving them away to a friend, donating items can prevent goods from ending up in the landfill.
  3. Make mindful purchases. Try to avoid impulse buying and take some time to think about what you really need.
  4. Shop secondhand. Instead of going to traditional retailers, shop at flea markets, thrift stores, or local yard sales.
  5. Buy less. When you cut down on what you buy, you’ll realize you don’t need as much as you thought you did. Try out a no-buy month or keep track of your necessities so you can curb any shopping urges.
  6. Support sustainable companies. These days, more businesses are becoming aware of the impact that the online retail industry has on the environment. Here at Sabai, we offer Sabai Revive, a program where you can trade in your used Sabai furniture, or buy one secondhand for up to 30% off the original price.

Shop Our Essential Sofa

The Essential Sofa in Recycled Velvet
The Essential Sofa in Recycled Velvet


If you'd like to purchase our made-to-order furniture or want to know more about our Open Box Returns, feel free to email us at customer@sabai.design or send us a DM on Instagram @sabai.design. You can also sign up for our newsletter where we send out regular updates!


Thanks to e-commerce and the shipping industry, shopping is easier than ever. But unfortunately, the amount of waste created from fast consumption and return culture is doing more harm than good for the environment. By slowing down our consumption and extending the life of our existing belongings, we can hopefully ensure our planet doesn't pay the price for our decisions.

Cover image via Unsplash

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