German online retailers threw away an estimated 20 million returned items in 2018

German online retailers threw away an estimated 20 million returned items in 2018, according to a study by the University of Bamberg.

The study evaluated the answers of 139 German online retailers with combined revenues of 5.5 billion euros (6 billion U.S. dollars), or 8.4 percent of total e-commerce revenues in Germany in 2018.

According to the study, the disposal of the returned items was without alternative in more than half of the cases due to technical difficulties in terms of reprocessing the items such as packaging.

German online retailors stated that a donation of the returned items would theoretically be possible in 40 percent of the cases but was prevented since donations were “too risky or expensive”. Also, there was no secondary market for returned items.

Many German online retailers complained about the administrative effort required for donating items, uncertainty in determining the value of the returned goods and the fact that the value-added tax exceeded the cost of disposal, according to the study.

However, the study found that “only 45 percent of the participants knew the exact costs for the disposal of an article.”

The study suggested to “develop incentives” like the development of a sustainability seal for good returns management in order to motivate retailers to “actively promote a low disposal rate” of returned items.

Furthermore, the study recommended to increase the cost of disposal and to create donation-friendly framework conditions like an official registry that lists places that accept donations.