Expert slams the 'Keep or Return' TikTok trend for being unsustainable: 'I’ve seen the damaging impact of the industry'

A sustainability expert is calling out the “Keep or Return” TikTok trend.

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If you’re a fashion lover, you’ve probably seen the hashtag “Keep or Return” (#KeeporReturn) that’s been viewed over 140 million times on TikTok. It’s full of haul videos where consumers spend tons of money on fast fashion brands, then decide what to keep and what to return.

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The practice may seem innocent, but according to Whitney Carthcart, a sustainability expert and cofounder of 3DLOOK, all those returns are wreaking havoc on the environment. Brands like Walmart, Shein and Forever21 might be affordable, but they are not known for being leaders in sustainability.

“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,” Carthcart told Fashion United.

But a huge portion of returned clothing doesn’t end up back on shelves to be resold. According to Fast Company, roughly 30% of online shopping purchases are returned, with the majority sent off to landfills. In 2020, 2.9 million tons of returns in the U.S. were disposed of in landfills.

This environmental impact doesn’t even include the massive carbon footprint left by the fashion industry as it is. Considered the second-largest industrial polluter, it accounts for 10% of global pollution and is responsible for 1.2 billion tons of carbon emissions annually, according to Carbon Literacy. Carthcart advised clothing brands to take a more transparent approach with consumers.

“Brands that have massive social followings can use their channels to educate their shoppers on the damage fashion causes — and not just the products themselves, but also the impact of excessive and unnecessary returns,” she told Fashion United.

It’s not just environmentalists who are concerned about the industry’s sustainable practices or lack thereof. According to Carthcart, over 50% of shoppers want the fashion industry to become more sustainable. Many are even willing to pay more money for quality products with less problematic impacts.

“Consumers are wising up to the fact that fashion has forced unhealthy practices on them for decades, and for those retailers that fail to freshen up their image, an abundance of mission-driven brands are just waiting to address these concerns,” Cartcart told Fashion United.

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