Why Your Returned Holiday Present May End Up In a Landfill
Photo: Kari Shea
If your plans for today include heading to the mall (or perhaps just the UPS store) to return whatever ill-advised gifts your well-meaning friends and relatives bestowed upon you yesterday, you're not alone. The retail industry is bracing itself for many of the goods sold over the past month to be returned, and unfortunately, a 2015 survey by MarketWatch shows that less than half of the approximately $221.7 billion worth of unwanted stuff returned each year in the US can be resold for full price. And $65 billion, or more than a quarter of that, is returned following the holidays, meaning stores are about to have a whole lot of potentially unsellable merchandise on their hands.
The worst part? According to an investigation by tech startup Optoro reported by CNN Money, this leads to an estimated 5 billion pounds of unwanted gifts ending up in landfills. Can you think of anything more depressing than this so-called “river of rejected gifts“? I, for one, cannot.
While a like-new item may be able to be resold for full price, about a quarter of the items returned in a year go back to the manufacturer, while much of the rest goes to secondary retailers like Kohl's and Nordstrom Rack, where savvy shoppers score major deals. What those retailers can't sell is often sent to liquidators or ends up in pawn shops. But all of this comes at a high cost to the retailers, who have to assess the value of the item, repackage it, and figure out where to send it. Sadly, it's often cheaper to simply throw things out.
Optoro, the company that looked into how much of our unwanted Christmas prezzies inadvertently become landfill detritus, is actually working to mitigate this problem and its environmental impact using something called “reverse logistics.” Basically, they take the struggle of dealing with these unwanted items off the hands of retailers, sorting through the items, storing them, and selling them to resale websites and pawn shops in a bid to keep perfectly good stuff from getting trashed.
And while returning stuff to get store credit or cold hard cash on the spot is tempting, if you want to make sure your unwanted gift doesn't become a burden to the environment, consider alternatives like reselling it yourself on eBay or consignment sites like Tradesy and The RealReal, donating it to charity, or even pulling the old re-gift. After all, if one woman's trash is another's treasure, then it doesn't need to become trash at all.