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Rescuing Product Returns Before They Reach the Landfill

Rescuing Product Returns Before They Reach the Landfill

Online shopping has become the way of the world. It is easy and convenient. It has also become more prevalent, in part, due to the surge of retailers closing their brick-and-mortar stores, including Bed Bath and Beyond, Toys“R”Us, Radio Shack, Sports Authority, and others. But with more online purchasing comes an increase in product returns.

When you can’t touch and feel an item or try it on before you buy it, it is hard to know if it is a keeper. Retailers are often flexible with returns, which makes it easy for the customer when the product is a disappointment. But what actually happens to these products once you send them back to the retailer?

The Reality of Product Returns

You might assume that your returned items will go back on shelves so other customers can buy them. But that’s not always the case. Retailers commonly throw away returned products rather than repackage and restock them. According to Optoro, a technology company that helps retailers and brands manage returned and excess inventory, 9.5 billion pounds of returns ended up in U.S. landfills in 2022 alone.

It is hard to imagine why companies would want to trash their own products. As it turns out, processing returned items is expensive for companies. Staff need to inspect, and possibly even test, every returned product before reselling it. Optoro estimates that it costs a company 66% of the product’s price to process its return.

Even though returns account for $816 billion in lost sales, according to the 2022 Consumer Returns in the Retail Industry report from the National Retail Federation (NRF), many companies don’t want to spend the time and money to resell these products. Instead, they send them to liquidation warehouses or discard them.

Rescuing Returns To Help Those in Need

Fortunately, there is another option. A network of community redistribution partners (CRPs) works with the national nonprofit Good360 to distribute returned products to those who need them most.

Each year, Good360 serves tens of thousands of nonprofit organizations around the country by giving them access to product donations that allow them to run their programs more efficiently and affordably. These products come from major retail partners, including Home Depot, Walmart, Disney, Kohl’s, and more.

Over the last 40 years, Good360 has worked with over 400 corporate partners and 100,000 nonprofit members to distribute over $14 billion worth of products that could have otherwise ended up in landfills. In 2022, the network distributed $2.5 billion in donated products to people and organizations that needed them and diverted over 200 million pounds of products from landfills, according to its most recent Impact Report.

More retailers are recognizing the value of this service, with big players like Amazon getting on board recently. Romaine Seguin, CEO of Good360, explained, “The network of Amazon warehouses around the country has allowed Good360 to provide even greater access to donated goods for nonprofits across the nation, creating a significant impact in local communities.”

How Sustainability Is Driving More Interest

Addressing environmental concerns regarding returns is gaining more attention as sustainability becomes a priority for companies focused environmental, social, and governance (ESG) efforts. Lottie Watts, senior manager of media relations at NRF, stated, “Reducing returns is a critical piece of the emerging circular economy. There are clear business, environmental, and broader sustainability drivers encouraging everyone to reduce returns.” Additionally, a recent NRF study on the carbon footprint of retail operations identified retail returns as a significant factor.

According to Seguin, Good360 is well-positioned as the global ESG movement accelerates. “Corporations value and trust Good360 because we provide a responsible business solution for unsellable inventory, we help them on their journey to their zero waste and other sustainability goals, and we help them drive meaningful social impact,” she said.

Making a Difference on the Local Level

Good360’s community redistribution partners serve as regional hubs for product donations and distribution. Typically, CRPs operate a warehouse where members can choose from all types of products, such as school supplies, electronics, appliances, office furniture, and clothing.

“One of Good360’s greatest assets is the strength of our nonprofit network, which is 100,000 vetted nonprofits strong,” explained Seguin. “Our CRPs are a cornerstone of this nationwide community of impact organizations. Highly trusted, each CRP is like a mini Good360, serving dozens (if not hundreds) of other nonprofits in their region. CRPs help us amplify our impact and keep donations as local as possible.”

Morningday Community Solutions (MCS) is one such organization. Based in South Florida, MCS prides itself on preventing more than 400 tons of retail waste each year by helping hundreds of local nonprofit organizations spend less on goods and more on critical programs. Many of its main partners are through Good360—such as Lowe’s, Old Navy, and Williams and Sonoma—but it also partners with local mom-and-pop shops to collect goods.

At MSC’s warehouse, a team of staff and volunteers check products to ensure that no parts are missing and also stock shelves. Items are typically available to nonprofit members for 70% less than the market retail price. Veterans, at-risk youth, homeless people, people in recovery, those with disabilities, teachers, and others directly benefit from this community resource.

“As returns and overstock goods increase, it becomes a greater opportunity for organizations like ourselves to be able to bring those goods in and redistribute them to those in need,” explained Buddy Walck, executive director of MCS. “The economic downturn has hit a lot of people very hard. We have an opportunity to take goods not being used, and instead of going into the landfill, we can help more people than ever.”

How You Can Help

While you may never know the fate of the items you return, there are a few things you can do to help minimize the waste of product returns.

  • Think before you buy. “As consumers, we can all help by making smart and thoughtful purchasing decisions by buying the items we truly need and prioritizing higher quality goods,” advised
  • Utilize size charts to avoid ordering the same item in multiple sizes.
  • Instead of returning an item right away, consider regifting, donating, repurposing, or reselling it on your own through resources like Facebook Marketplace or eBay.
  • Volunteer at a local CRP near you. Either contact Good360 for a list of organizations in your state or search online.
  • Support companies that have responsible practices for returns. You may be able to find this information through a web search or checking the company website. Also, Good360 lists its partners on its home page.
  • Let retailers know that they can partner with Good360 to reduce waste from product returns.
  • Educate others. “The biggest part is to make sure we are getting this awareness out to the public so they know this is an issue,” Walck suggested. “We need to get people to think about what is happening to a return once it goes back to the retailer.”

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