We need to end the TikTok “Keep or Return” trend

Please, for the love of the planet, just stop.

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140 million

The number of views on TikTok's #KeepOrReturn hashtag

Fashion United

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A trend on TikTok called “Keep or Return” is encouraging users to buy clothes en masse from fast fashion brands, try them on, and return any items their followers don’t like.

In the videos, TikTokers try on fits from fast fashion retailers like SHEIN, Zara, and Amazon, strike a pose, and walk to a “keep” or “return” side.

The trend seems harmless enough, but its impact on the planet is anything but.

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In theory, returning clothes seems sustainable — you are, after all, allowing a store to resell it for another person to wear.

But buying clothes with the intention of returning is all sorts of problematic.

For one, it increases your carbon footprint. The more clothes you order, the more emissions-heavy the shipment is — and when you send them back, you’re increasing the emissions even further, whether you’re driving to a store to return or mailing a package.

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71.54 million

The amount of CO2, in metric tons, emitted by Amazon deliveries alone in 2021 — a nearly 40% increase from 2019.

Amazon 2021 Sustainability Report & CNBC

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Then, there’s the established fact that the fast fashion industry is horrible for the planet — and for the people who make the clothes these TikTokers order and return en masse.

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Returned clothes don’t always get re-sold

At the end of the day, most returned items end up in landfills, according to BBC Earth, as it’s often easier and more cost-effective for retailers to trash those pieces (especially cheaply made clothes) than get them ready to re-sell.

Brands that recycle returned clothes make up less than 11% of fashion retailers, according to Baptist World Aid Australia’s 2019 Ethical Fashion Report.

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5 billion

The amount of waste, in pounds, created through returns every year.

BBC Earth

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Having spent 30 years in fashion, I’ve seen the damaging impact of the industry spiral out of control as shoppers moved online, happily making the most of perks such as free returns without truly understanding what happens to the items that they send back.

Ultimately, the “Keep or Return” trend is exacerbating the already horrible effects of fast fashion by encouraging people to buy far more than what they need.

Although returning a bunch of clothes might seem good in theory, it’s extremely wasteful in practice. Quitting fast fashion is complicated for some people, but it’s important that everyone push back on excessive consumption and “hauls.”

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