Friday, January 8, 2010

Why are two major retailers torturing their own trash?

I couldn't believe it and double-checked it to be true. This Tuesday Jim Dwyer from The New York Times gave us A Clothing Clearance Where More Than Just the Prices Have Been Slashed. Consider Dwyer's short article mandatory reading and please pass it on.

We are aware that retailers, especially giants like WalMart, have stacked decks and play consumers to up purchases (often with items no one needs) and up profit margins for Wall Street. It's sneaky, it's dirty and it sinks consumers into debt so deep they need pressurized submarines for the commute home.

But, this is all front end activity. Who could ever think that retailers would slaughter perfectly fine goods to make them trash? Why not donate them? Could they truly be so childish and think, "If no one will buy this coat, I'll be damned that no one will ever wear this coat and rip it to shreds!"

In the words of Little Pie, "I think that's like torture to the people who need clothes. Winter is a dangerous time for homeless people, they can get hypothermia. They deserve warm clothes." Good grief! My eight year old daughter has more compassion than the lot of companies taking such selfish, ridiculous measures.

Is there retail redemption for such a wasteful act in a time of such pressing need?


Rachel said...

Ugh. Kinda makes ya sick. :(

Thanks for sharing this. I had heard that Walmart incinerates some of their unsold goods.

I know Target gives a lot of unsold clearance to Goodwill.

It would be an interesting exercise to find out what store policy is for the places we shop.

Beth said...

It's a very sickening story. Unbelievably bad PR for these companies, neither of which I shopped at anyway, but if I had, I surely wouldn't anymore.

On the other hand, I'm not at all surprised by Rachel's note about Target giving unsold clearance items to Goodwill. One more reason to support Target.

Christina said...

I read this article too, and feel the same way. I dislike shopping at Walmart anyway, due to a lot of their business practices, but this really sealed the deal for me. It sickens me to know that they would go through all that trouble just to be jerks.

Heart2Home said...

It's such a shame that this has to happen. I know that Joann's Fabrics does the same thing.

Why not donate the un-sold goods to a charity?


Anonymous said...

Retailers are only allowed to write off only a certain amount each year as charity. Once they meet that as a company indivual stores are instructed to thrash anything else. Most are destroyed to prevent anyone from trying to return it to the store for money. The bottom line is profit for stores. Once the charity max. is met for tax purposes, there is no incentive to donate.

Laurie said...

Disgraceful. But I expect good will come of it, due to all the attention & outrage. In the meantime, we can all keep spreading the saner, more sustainable message of thrift.

Kim said...

It makes me ill. If they don't want people returning the item for store credit, they could cut out the tags and leave the clothing intact.

Theresa said...

Nothing Walmart does shocks me. It would take a MAJOR uprising from the masses to ever make them change their ways. They do not have to, people shop there anyway.
It is sad. I worked with a lady who volunteered at a Salvation Army thrift store (I am in Canada) she told me that what they did not sell got thrown out. UUUGGHHH!!!

Cathy said...

My sister and brother-inlaw worked in retail for years and we have been given things the store just tossed in the garbage. They toss out items used for seasonal display along with clothing. One year, I received huge copper planters that were tossed in the trash along with some children size furniture. Once it's in the garbage they don't care who takes it. I've seen Lowes toss out wheelbarrows with damaged boxes. It's shameful.

Ivy said...

That just makes me sick. It is so disgusting to think of trashing all of that clothing instead of giving it to people who could use it. NY even has a clothing bank that makes it impossible for the clothing to be "returned" for store credit so the company wouldn't have to lose money. And while the business may only get a tax break of X amount of dollars, it doesn't mean it still isn't the right thing to do to donate it. And bad PR is still bad PR.

Rachel said...

Yeah, giving it to a clothing bank or donation center where the clothing tag could have a black mark put through it should be enough to prevent returns.

Michael said...

Anonymous and Kim have comments worth reading. "Anonymous" pretends that it's only worthwhile for a store or store chain to donate so long as there is a tax break involved. Huh? What about simply doing the right thing after the tax break is exhausted? Capitalism is fine, so long as it's not outright shame.

Kim is right to point out the notion of cutting tags to prevent fraud. Simple.

I'd love people to post *verifiable* claims of other store practices (like the one mentioned in this post) - or better yet, links to reputable sources of photos or video ;-) I'll bet there are enough shops out there where proof isn't that hard to come by. Please provide a URL, or reputable print source.

That said, I'll offer anectodal evidence, provided by a popular thrift outlet employee who indicated (hint: rhymes with Farget) *sells* at least some of their excess goods to them, albeit at a reduced price. Of course, the difference made up in the thrift sale still helps out the charitable bottom line, but sometimes the goods are damaged, bogus returns. The concept is a mixed bag.

Our local Mar-get is consistent with store policy in that it gives back to the community in other concrete ways, so I support them over Narwhal-Mart for this simple reason. Purchasing an item from the latter is a LAST resort for our family.

All this makes me want to dumpster dive at some select retailers and get some good photo evidence for ShoppingG to post. I'm mad.

Shopping Golightly said...


I'm actually happy you're mad. You should be.

I will happily post any submitted photos or video on this blog documenting this retail behavior. For obvious reasons, I will ask for a signed notarized form that the information has not been falsified. My contact information is in the left column near the top of the page.

In these times of such tremendous need, this needs to stop for about a hundred obvious reasons.

Keep thrifting. Godspeed!

Nishant said...

It would be an interesting exercise to find out what store policy is for the places we shop.

Work from home India

the thrifty ba said...

i used to work for wbss (warner bros) and all 'hard good' were tobe distroyed. shipping glass/metal/heavy things just werent worth it. but we did send all clothing to a central location for a 'warehouse' type store. i think we blacked out the tags or something so that no one could return them to real stores...although many dishonest people tried.
i also read this story and thought it was crazy that they would just dump them in view! like they wanted to be caught...i bet heads rolled when this story went out...

PaperCameraScissor said...


Anonymous said...

I don't know about other companies, but with Wal-Mart it is simply about payroll. It is eaiser to destroy the clothes than mark out the name brand on the clothing. If it is destroyed there is not chance someone will try to bring it back. Destroying the merchandise saves them payroll for no less than four associates when someone tries to bring it back. I am not defending them, just telling you how they see it. And as I said profit is the bottom line. They are not in business to help people, but to make money. Sad, wrong, wasteful but the reality of retail.

Shopping Golightly said...


There in is a serious problem. WalMart ran out all the mom and pop stores that DID care about and know their customers and the economic health of their immediate community. These were the businesses that took action to ensure there was health and balance in their community because if there wasn't, well, no business.

At some point, there needs to be concern for the customer else they lose the customer for a variety of reasons.

I might sound like a Utopian, but I believe what I write.

Saver Queen said...

This makes me want to cry. It's really upsetting. I'm glad you drew our attention to this article - thank you.

This Thrifted Life said...

Unfortunately, this practice is all too common. :(

Places like Walgreens and Ulta have been destroying their unused and returned (yet never opened) merchandise for years. It's sickening that tons of toiletries like soap and shampoo are emptied and their bottles trashed every week. Those products could be doing so much good at a homeless shelter or the like.

Anonymous said...

I read the NY Times article. Horrible. We have charities in Michigan that are begging people to donate coats, mittens, boots, etc. because the demand for such things is enormous. Now, how does it make sense for me to buy a pair of gloves to donate to charity when big retailers, in my community, could easily do it?

Daisy said...

Retail redemption? Think boycott.

John at Cell Phone Recycling said...

Don't this company realize that their name could be destroy? But other than that, why would they think that people will going to buy something just because they are on sale? Yeah right, they are on sale just because no one wants it anymore. Donating it to less fortunate people? why not...Or should we remind them of the feeling when you are helping others.

The Prudent Homemaker said...

Here is part of the problem:

Locally, our Walmarts could donate returned items (specifically opened packages of socks and underwear that were returned) to those in need. This is a real need here; we have at least one school in town where the children go without socks or underwear to school. Their needs used to be met by donations on returned, opened packages from local retailers (Walmart and Target).

Unfortunately, those who received these items--for free--were not happy enough with them. Instead of gratitude, they sued, for various reasons. They sued those who gave them much needed clothing for free. The retailers had to stop giving out free clothing to those in need.

So, though I think the clothing could be donated to thrift stores--and should be--we should also be aware of the sin of ingratitude from those who bit the hand that clothed them, making it impossible for stores to help others.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure which makes me cry more - the stores deliberately destroying and disposing of perfectly OK goods rather than donating to the needy or the ungrateful needy that the Prudent Homemaker talks of .
Why do those in need believe they are entitled? I've never understood why, when giving, that it must always be new. Isn't functional more important?
We are a middle income family just making ends meet who find no shame in purchasing the bulk of our clothing and some household goods from op shops and even if we did have more money, would continue to do so. There is too much going for it.

Shopping Golightly said...

Prudent Homemaker,

Can you cite a reference to what you write of?


Elizabeth said...

I'm going to let you in on a little secret...

Goodwill does this too.

It's a shameful shameful, dirty little secret of the retail industry. And thrift stores are just as guilty.

A lot of it stems from people dumpster diving, getting hurt, and then suing the store who's dumpster they (voluntarily) dove into. I know someone who lost a sibling to a dumpster tipping on to him. Not a pretty story, but when you think about how people can sue for just about anything under the sun, it seems a silly point to destroy items that just might find their hands into those that could honestly use them.

There is a lot that people should be aware of. Another topic to talk about, charitable thrift store preditors. They volunteer to "sort items" and then take the best for themselves.

We are a wasteful, wasteful society. If it doesn't change, if we don't start living with morality and environmental consciousness, our children will inherit nothing.

Thanks for bring this to attention.

Perhaps a solution would be to organize pick up teams that would be willing to bring trucks to pick up whenever and wherever, kind of like how Second Harvest will pick up perishable restaurant supplies for food shelves.

Shopping Golightly said...


I need to check with Goodwill. I'm quite familiar with their final processing site in Denver. Though I cannot speak for them I do know that the final merchandise, after many weeks of sitting on the racks and then going through their clearance center where *everything* is $0.99, they auction off huge lots which mostly go to third world countries. That's why you can go to Bolivia and see a kid wearing a Broncos t-shirt. They even save un-mated shoes for a man who comes in to send the shoes to countries revenged by land mines. Everything else is broken down into the most Bare, recyclable elements and sent to the proper place.

Nearly a year ago the Denver Post did a feature on the product cycle at Goodwill. I've been searching their website and cannot find the piece. I'll keep searching. The article is in line with what I know.

I understand that every business has waste, but there are several questions to be asked:
1) Is this honest waste or can it be reused?
2) Regarding this waste, what is the best way to process it that is best for the community?

This post was written with a link to a reputable news source and I understand it strikes a cord in us all.

Going forward I kindly ask people to cite resources if they are to make a claim. Best to avoid thinking we all have that infamous Neiman Marcus cookie recipe that's been hoodwinking people for over a decade on the Internet.

Many thanks.

Anonymous said...

Here are some url's for some facts on Walmart -- our favorite villan:

Rachel said...

Now I am starting to think about the waste that my own family generates.

We try so hard to recycle our paper, cardboard, glass, plastic, etc.
I also try to use cloth rather than disposable items (diapers, wipes, hankies, etc).

However, are we bringing in more than we should to begin with? Are we throwing things out before they have lost their usefulness?

Shopping, thanks for the wake up call and thanks for the info on what Goodwill here in Denver does with unsold goods!

Deborah Schneider said...

I read that article and became so steamed. It is a true tragedy that retailers would behave this way. Thank you for sharing this.

Avrila said...

What about someone setting up a charity to buy things that are going to be destroyed at a very low price (better for the stores than nothing), and redistribute the rescued trash to third world countries and other remote areas where those stores don't operate, so that there's also no competition issue?

In the case of Goodwill...I don't doubt that they end up throwing out some stuff. The fact is, not every item that gets donated is going to be picked up by one of us. What we need for that, since the overwhelming majority of it is fabric-based, is a group of charitable crafty people to rework those items into things that someone will want. Waste scraps (and any items that are just ratty in the first) can be torn up for pillow and toy stuffing.

Also...I didn't know eight year olds still knew the word "hypothermia." Does anyone else suspect that Little Pie is a mini-genius?

Shopping Golightly said...


As usual, excellent insights.

You are dead on in noting that not all items donated to thrift stores are worthy of the racks. Who wants to buy a mustard-stained undershirt with brown-stained pits?

Also, we are talking apples and oranges. Conventional retailers have choices and purchase new products they order by quantity and can send back if not up to snuff. Thrift stores accept donations of items for reuse and they do not have the option of sending items back to the donor if not up to snuff.

Of course I am of the belief that Little Pie is a budding genius. However, at eight years old, she is a mountaineer of 14,000K Colorado summits. One must understand hypothermia to hike these mountains and live to tell about it.

Good to hear from you!

The Prudent Homemaker said...

Sorry I don't have a printed reference to give you, because it is my sister-in-law, who works at a local school who told me--and their school used to get donations until this happened, when Walmart let them know why they no longer could do so. She actually coordinates a lot of relief efforts at the school; it is her job, in fact, to take the unclaimed winter coats before Christmas break (all students are notified that they need to pick up their coats) and donate them to a local thrift shop. She recently cooordinated a drive for a family whose father died unexpectedly, and the school let her have a big donation drive for this family.

Several boys at our church are doing Eagle Scout projects right now, gathering socks and underwear for schools here. And, yep, they must all be new.

On another note:

When I lived in Geneva, Switzerland, I met a man from South America who was wearing a t-shirt that had English words on it. What were they? It was (Surname)Family Reunion!

So, yes, some places do donate to other countries. I make it a point to donate to a thrift store that I KNOW ships out clothing bundles to third-world countries and emergency relief efforts.

Shopping Golightly said...

Prudent Homemaker,

Just as I believe that conventional retail should be transparent regarding their product cycles, I believe the same of thrift.

Neither is perfect, but I undoubtedly believe conventional retail has a lot to hide, whether it is in their product cycles or the tactics and research they do to get people to purchase things they don't really need or even want.

I also believe charitable thrift stores need to up public education regarding the behind-the-scenes efforts. Auctioning huge lots to third world countries, or saving shoes for victims of land mines are just quick examples of how charitable thrift stores help the world.

We talk of thrift stores in this blog as it pertains to building a much-needed robust reuse market in America.

Just as cultural institutions charge gate fees to fund their missions, organizations like Goodwill, use thrift as a fundraising effort. I’ve been to many Goodwill events and the focus is never on the stores but on the people they help and their personal stories to a better life.

Perhaps I should write of some personal stories that the profits from thrift gave a happy ending to.

When one pulls back and sucks in the big picture, one sees that charitable thrift organizations are quite elegant in their business design.

How poignant is it that you met a South American in Switzerland with a t-shirt, probably from some charitable thrift organization, that named your family’s reunion? But also, how poignant it is that this gentleman wore the shirt and didn’t have the “Eww, it’s not new” attitude.

I agree that sometimes one uncovers rules that are real head-scratchers. For example, if I wish to bring a treat for my daughter’s class on her birthday, I cannot bake organic pumpkin muffins with minimal and healthy ingredients. I must purchase baked goods from a store that have a mountain of ingredients I cannot even recite.

Jeanie said...

Hi just jumped over here to read this article, great blog by the way, and was sickend by what I read but was not totally suprised.
My husband use to work for a national drug store chain that threw stuff away at end of season that was left over, my husband would pay 10cents for the kites left over and take them and give them to the kids at our church outreach, these were just plain no frill kites. Then the chain passed down the edict that the could no longer do this and that the manager must dispose of all left overs in the dumpster and make them unsaleable. So he stood outside for an hour breaking kites so no one could fish them from the dumpster adn taking a carpet knife and riping things and then poured paint over everything. My husband watched dumfounded that they would rather do this than give things to people who would appreciate them.
Now as to the food taken to school, I love homeade treats for the kiddos, but totally understand where the school is coming from, not everyone is concentious about what they put into the food they bring or practice good higene while making the treats, if one of the children were to get sick the school would be blamed for it. I sadly lament that the days of homemade goodies taken to school are mostly a thing of the past but understand why.
Thanks for shareing
Jeanie Yarbrough

The Prudent Homemaker said...

Just to clarify, it wasn't my family name on the t-shirt!

But I found it interesting!

I didn't know that about home-baked treats at schools; that's sad. We homeschool, so I miss out on a lot of rules like that. I also don't have to worry about putting much gas in my car to take the children to school, though! We are a one-car family, and my husband works from home most days, so we've gone all month on one tank of gas.

We'll keep enjoying our homemade treats here!

Tracey McBride ~ Frugal Luxuries™ said...

Great post, I had a friend who used to work at a major department store tell me similar stories.

On a happier note, I would be honored to let you know that I've awarded you a Happy 101 Award on my Frugal Luxuries blog! I'm just posting now, but thought I'd drop a note to let you know. Thanks so much for your informative blog!


Debt Reduction said...

Great blog post for this one.

I simply could not understand companies like this one. What are they trying to prove? When there is no difference between trashing all the unsold or rejected goods with giving it away to people who definitely need it. Does charity need to have a limit? What I am trying to say is that, why can't we be more considerate (including the rules from taxes or returns), for the company it's a trash but for those people who need it, it's a gift.

I am hoping to jump on for more post like this, comments and more information are needed to open the heart of some people who doesn't care about the needs of others.

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