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How online returns are contributing to landfill waste

Experts say online purchases are three times more likely to be returned than items bought in a store.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A record amount of merchandise was returned in 2021, but there's a darker side you may not know about.

Let's connect the dots. 

Experts say online purchases are three times more likely to be returned than items bought in a store. Amazon third-party sellers told CNBC they end up throwing away about a third of returned items.

The CEO of a returns solution provider says from all those returns, there's nearly 6 billion pounds of landfill waste generated each year. 

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That's equal to the amount of waste produced by 3.3 million americans in a year. 

Retailers have also been known to burn unused or returned products, as a means of disposal, or in some cases,  to protect their brand. 

In response to growing criticism, Amazon says it's working toward a goal of zero product disposal, creating new programs to give sellers the option to re-sell returns, or auction them off. 

It also has programs to recycle returned goods or donate them to nonprofits. 

Amazon says more than 67 million items have been donated so far.

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WCNC Charlotte is part of seven major media companies and other local institutions producing I Can’t Afford to Live Here, a collaborative reporting project focused on solutions to the affordable housing crisis in Charlotte. It is a project of the Charlotte Journalism Collaborative, which is supported by the Local Media Project, an initiative launched by the Solutions Journalism Network with support from the Knight Foundation to strengthen and reinvigorate local media ecosystems. See all of our reporting at charlottejournalism.org.

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