Retailer Told Waste Not When So Many are in Need

Discussion
Dec 22, 2005
George Anderson

By George Anderson


A column by Jim Kenyon in The Valley News of West Lebanon, N.H., takes Home Depot to task for destroying and throwing out the various building materials and other goods used in its displays.


According to an unidentified worker at a local Home Depot who wished to remain employed, “Last week, we destroyed several hundred dollars in bathtubs and sinks. Nothing wrong with them; we changed our displays and they had to go. If the (manufacturer) doesn’t want them, they tell us to destroy.”


The author writes that the same practice at the local Home Depot is repeated at the company’s 1,500 or so stores across the country and it simply doesn’t make any sense to him on a number of levels.


“For starters, it doesn’t make environmental sense. America’s landfills are overflowing as it is. But even more disturbing is the idea of throwing away building materials that Upper Valley (local) nonprofit organizations could put to good use.”


One group that came to mind for the author was an organization called COVER, which makes home repairs for free for low-income residents.


The local Home Depot is already involved with COVER, he writes. Recently the store provided the group with a store voucher for $250 to buy materials to winterize a local home. Employees from the store volunteered and helped do the work on the home.


Mr. Kenyon thinks Home Depot can and should do more. “Instead of destroying bathtubs and throwing away doors from displays, why not donate them to COVER? Materials could be used in home repair projects. Plus, COVER already sells used building supplies out of its warehouse on South Main Street in White River Junction to help fund its $300,000-a-year operation. With Home Depot’s help, its inventory could be greatly expanded.”


Management at the local Home Depot has told the author they are not authorized to make the type of decision that would donate product to COVER.


On his last visit, the store called Atlanta so he could speak directly with a member of the company’s media relations department. The person he spoke with reinforced what the local manager had said, explaining it would take approval from the company’s regional or perhaps national office for building materials to be donated.


The author suggests that this is worthy of the national office’s attention. “It’s a worthy goal,” he writes. “Anything else is just a waste of good materials and good will.”


Moderator’s Comment: How should Home Depot and perhaps others in the building supplies business respond to the call in this article? Are there legitimate,
perhaps overriding, reasons a retailer can not do what is being asked in The Valley News column?


Thanks to Warren Thayer for bringing this column to the attention of RetailWire.


Jim Kenyon of The Valley News can be reached at Jim.Kenyon@Valley.net



George Anderson – Moderator

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15 Comments on "Retailer Told Waste Not When So Many are in Need"


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Ben Ball
Guest
15 years 2 months ago
Of course, destroying perfectly good materials (or food, or clothing) is a waste. But before we single out Home Depot or any other retailer for a media whipping, consider the legal environment they deal in. Typically, the goods in question have been in some way removed from their original packing. They have been exposed to the manipulation of store personnel and/or customers. There is no way management can give a blanket guarantee that these goods are not in some way damaged or faulty such that they might cause injury or illness. There is also practically no way for a charitable institution to give a blanket “hold harmless” certificate to the donating retailer that would hold up in court. In short, there is significant risk involved. Sad, but true. The other issue retailers sometimes face is that they don’t even own the display merchandise. This is particularly true with high ticket hardlines. The manufacturer owns the stock and they have to not only give permission for the donation, but also figure out how to assume all… Read more »
Ron Margulis
Guest
15 years 2 months ago

At the very least, Home Depot should be trying to recycle these products, which they may, in fact, be doing — it’s not clear in the story. Needlessly adding to the nation’s waste stream is not what Home Depot is about. They have been working with RAM Communications client CHEP to use pooled pallets rather than slipsheets or one-way pallets. I’ve seen estimates that by using the CHEP program, Home Depot is helping to remove more than five hundred million pounds of waste each year! And this is just one of the many environment programs I know the company supports.

Bill Bittner
Guest
Bill Bittner
15 years 2 months ago

Not only does it make environmental sense, it makes good Supplier/Retailer relationship sense. The problem is that right now it simply doesn’t make economic sense. I assume the reason that the materials are destroyed is because it just doesn’t make sense to pay the cost of returning them to the manufacturer just so they can be disposed of there. The manufacturer doesn’t want them “dropped in the yard” because there may be subsequent liability or service issues.

Because the retailer didn’t pay anything for the display products, they are not entitled to a tax deduction. An alternative would be for the retailer (Home Depot) to offer to donate the materials for the supplier and get a gift confirmation. In return, the supplier would offer home depot a “display donation allowance,” and everyone benefits. The supplier gets a tax deduction, the retailer gets an allowance, the charity gets free merchandise, and the environment is saved.

Warren Thayer
Guest
15 years 2 months ago

Any waste such as this just shouldn’t be happening. I’d hope that Home Depot’s HQ people will see this and take action. What a perfect synergy it would be for groups such as Habitat for Humanity to be able to link in with retail chains such as this. Merry Chrismukkah, everybody!

Mark Lilien
Guest
15 years 2 months ago

Even if Home Depot bosses don’t care about the environment, they might care about the cost of trash removal. It’s rising all the time. The largest Dumpsters in New York City can cost up to $750! There are many national and local organizations that take donations in kind from businesses, for used and new items of all sorts. Certainly Home Depot should be sensitive to this from a PR standpoint. Every retailer, no matter what category, can put together a list of appropriate charities for the discards, from food banks to Habitat For Humanity to church clothing drives.

Bernice Hurst
Guest
15 years 2 months ago

All right, so it isn’t necessarily simple and straightforward but it probably isn’t rocket science either and it makes a tremendous amount of sense. None of the obstacles mentioned seem insurmountable or, in fact, even mildly awkward to overcome. I agree that Home Depot shouldn’t be singled out but as they have been cited, they could do an awful lot of good by setting a positive example and leading the way.

M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
15 years 2 months ago

I smell Pulitzer! Or not. Retailers and manufacturers of all types are moving to develop legitimate, non-litigious outlets for their discards. The problems, of course, are ways to do it and ways not to get sued if something goes wrong. Perhaps Habitat For Humanity could lend a hand? Jimmy Carter, where are you when the nation’s DIYers need you?

And don’t give food retailers, especially restaurants, too much credit for “Second Harvest” efforts. They really aren’t doing all they can, due to the fear of litigation and plain ol’ incompetence. (An exception: Albertsons’ produce departments already resemble Second Harvest distribution centers, so by the time it’s thrown out, it really is inedible.) Homeless people still do plenty of dumpster diving behind supermarkets and restaurants.

Jerry Gelsomino
Guest
15 years 2 months ago

First thought – isn’t Atlanta the home of President Carter’s home building for charity business? Why couldn’t Home Depot connect with them to donate excess inventory?

My second suggestion is that maybe retailers shouldn’t be taken to task for this, but what about some charity-entrepreneur who is out there who can approach this from a business opportunity? Ever see the ad which has been running for months on airplanes about the company that takes on excess inventory and distributes it to third world countries? The same business opportunity lies here.

Too many people like to point fingers rather than being part of the solution.

Rick Moss
Guest
15 years 2 months ago

I can’t deny that, with concerted effort, HD could find a solution, but I do think we’re perhaps singling them out unfairly. Grocers and eating establishments discard unimaginable quantities of edible food. It’s a great sin. Many retailers try to make donations, but we can’t necessarily fault them for what may be a costly exercise.

My wife worked for a department store advertising department based in impoverished Newark, New Jersey. Periodically, they would clear out props from the photo studio, mostly perfectly good…and sometimes very valuable…furniture and accessories. The company policy was to actually station a security guard by the dumpster to make sure the goods weren’t pilfered by locals. Everyone knew, however, that it was done to assure employees wouldn’t decide something needed to be tossed, and then return later with a pick up to furnish their homes.

ken morris
Guest
ken morris
15 years 2 months ago

HD does the same for much of the returned merchandise which is a much higher amount of product than display merchandise. If the product is opened and/or is under a certain dollar value, it meets the same fate as the display product. I agree with statements above that product liability is a red herring. Give the product away to those in need with the proper disclaimers.

Mark Burr
Guest
15 years 2 months ago

I think the risk issues and the contract issues are excuses. Yet, before I beat up on Home Depot, what about all the other retailers of these types of materials? Is there an example where this type of donation is taking place and is working?

If, in fact, the purpose is to call out the waste and suggest goodwill replace it, then there has to be a viable solution or an example. There is very little if anything that hasn’t been tried before. Certainly, many good organizations have been called out in the comments. However, what programs exist with these organizations today to either accept these goods or redirect them? Calling it out is one thing. Finding the right, best solution is another.

Karen McNeely
Guest
15 years 2 months ago

Am I crazy here for not getting the liability issue? Aren’t used items donated to charity all of the time? Doesn’t Habitat frequently utilize donated items? Why would the end user necessarily even know where the product originally came from? Isn’t it the merchants’ job to negotiate with the vendors? None of these issues should be insurmountable. The only problem is that nobody has taken the initiative to make it a company priority.

I don’t fault Home Depot per se, except to the extent that as in many corporations common sense suggestions from the folks at the lowest echelons either don’t make it to the top or aren’t given enough consideration. My guess is, had they paid an outside consultant a million bucks to come to the same conclusion, it would have been implemented…

W. Frank Dell II
Guest
15 years 2 months ago

Non-food retailing has much to learn from their food brethren. Programs like Second Harvest and donation to Food Banks from the Damage & Unsaleables operations do much good. We simply have not set up an effective approach for other than food. The opportunity is not limited to Home Depot. I know of one hardware store that gives its left over Christmas merchandise to a non-profit organization that sells it the following year with their Christmas trees. The difficult challenge is not only having a program, but the transportation of moving this discarded merchandise to the point of need.

Kai Clarke
Guest
15 years 2 months ago

Home Depot and other retailers, who have DIF (destroy in field allowances) for their samples, damages and displays, are faced with a difficult dilemma. Their vendors have given Home Depot an allowance, which must be adhered to. Legally, HD has to abide by this (it is usually part of their standard contract). Furthermore, HD will have issues with their insurance carrier, for any materials which were to have been destroyed, were never sold and were then donated. HD might be considered liable for any product failures in this situation. Instead, the key to managing this, is to be able to have the vendors permit donation of their damaged or sample products as part of the standard vendor contract, and to have HD embrace this effort as part of a corporate program to donate display merchandise to pre-approved charitable organizations. It is a great idea, whose time has come, so long as it is managed well.

David W Greene
Guest
David W Greene
15 years 1 month ago

My local Home Depot tries to salvage and even sell at least some of its damaged product. The Milling department has a culled wood section which often contains usable wood and wood products; the Paint department has their “Oops” paints; water conditioning salt in bags which have been torn or broken are sold at half-price; the Nursery department sells broken bags of mulch, top soil, and other items at a large discount to people who are willing to deal with the inconvenience.

For all of the reasons already mentioned by your esteemed BrainTrust Panelists and members, Home Depot should not be singled out in this waste and consume society. If you go to your local landfill and watch what people throw away, you might be amazed to see the perfectly useful things that end up there. For reasons of liability, the landfills, i.e., dumps, have policies against allowing the removal of anything – usable or not – from the dump.

Conservation begins at home.

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