Retailers Must Do More to Reduce Waste
Whether they are supermarkets or operate gift stores in strip malls, retailers have a responsibility to reduce waste. Waste diversion programs, whether they be a national policy or localized by store, will save companies money, too. I rarely get personal on this site, but two events over the long holiday weekend have pushed me to speak out. While visiting the Monterey area for my mother’s birthday, we walked around a shopping center in posh Carmel. My mother is a gadget fiend who uses her gadgets religiously. Upshot is, we found an item that I have, she loved it, so I just decided to buy it for her. Had that moment occurred after what I witnessed, however, I would have walked out. After I made the purchase, a women returned a french press that she said she did not like. The conversation was jumbled, but the customer asked if they would be able to resell it. The clerk cheerfully said with a wide smile, “Oh no, we just throw it in the trash, because we can’t resell it if it’s been used. But that is okay. Don’t worry.” The customer was mortified and protested, and was clearly embarrassed. Well, not embarrassed enough to keep the french press, but she was upset. The clerk then reiterated the policy, cheerfully. In the dumpster the glass and metal french press went, cardboard box and all. Meanwhile, my better half was at a high-end grocery store in LA, bought a bevy of fresh items, and realized he did not have his wallet. He was going to go back home to get cash, but as he walked out the exit, the manager flagged him down and said, “Just take them because if you don’t come back, we have to throw it out.” Anywhere from 35 to 40 percent of food in the US is wasted; the data for consumer products that end up in landfill are all over the map, but the amount in any case is appalling. Meanwhile we hear about hunger in America, but the problem is not merely financial or of supply, it is of distribution. “Dumpster divers” like Jeremy Seifert make for good stories and do their small part, but their efforts are not enough. I am not calling out the stores publicly as that just turns into company-bashing--I will contact them directly. But never mind the ethical and moral arguments. Companies are losing money. Companies cannot rely on outmoded policies or blame local regulations for their waste policies. Aggressive waste diversion programs like that of SUPERVALU (which operates Albertson’s) are part of the puzzle. Working with local officials and food banks would help. And as for retailers, plenty of items that work or appear “fine” could find a second life in thrift shops where shoppers would snap them up, and contributing to non-profits’ balance sheets. We have got to do better. Companies are wise to rethink their approach towards waste, and give employees more freedom to choose what they want to do with unwanted food or products. With the wasted energy, water, resources, and water, trash is not an option any longer.