Invalid or Invaluable?


As I contemplated the broad idea of “social problems today,” I realized that all of the issues that came to mind: hunger, educational inequality, and general poverty could all be solved by transferring some of the industrialized world’s profound waste to underprivileged and under-resourced areas. Whether food, clothing, household supplies, or any other manufactured goods that could improve the lives of those in need, the United States and other nations with similar resources could make a huge impact by simply shipping unused and unwanted products to areas in need. In my own life, I have witnessed much waste: grocery stores trashing near-expired food, Dunkin Donuts dumping day-old baked goods into a locked dumpster, clothing stores marking stained, ripped, mislabeled, incorrectly cut or otherwise “defective” merchandise at incredibly low clearance prices and then eventually throwing that merchandise away, and other retail stores clearance-pricing or simply disposing of items in crushed containers or with missing components. Overall, what American consumers deem as unwanted or undesirable items—a silverware set that is slightly bent, a candle with a crack in the side, a Tupperware set missing some lids—could be life-altering for those who lack access to such resources. While I may avoid a sweater with a huge pull or a pair of jeans with slightly misshapen legs, those who lack adequate clothing would jump at the chance to obtain such items. I do not approach this idea of need from a patronizing standpoint for those who lack the items; rather, I am ashamed at the amount of waste and the entitled standards those around me and, most importantly, myself.

Companies could significantly impact this vast resource gap and move some “waste” over to areas in need. Rather than discounting to very low prices or throwing away unwanted products, companies could accumulate “defective” merchandise and organize one massive annual shipment of such goods to particular areas that would vastly benefit. I remember once asking a Dunkin manager about why they refused to donate their donuts and bagels; he shrugged and said that company policy dictated this procedure. When I pushed harder, he turned to me and said, “If people can get our stuff for free, they won’t ever come in and buy it.” I find this argument preposterous overall, as those who would need to get food from donations would likely not have the luxury of spending money on Dunkin Donuts items. Further, even if a few sales were lost, the benefit to the community would far exceed a small missed profit. If a company were to ship some “defective” merchandise to the poorest areas of third-world countries, the company would certainly not lose that country’s market; this market never existed in the first place and is not likely to exist any time soon. The best way to force companies to start investing in other areas in need and counter some of these widespread social issues would be to ask the companies to part with what is already undesired, and to only risk losing a very small amount of profit, if any at all. Companies may be resistant to transportation costs, and some additional expenditures to collect all of the items and store them until shipping, but those costs would be minimal for such a tremendous benefit. Overall, I support companies’ rights to maximize their profits and minimize their expenses, but I believe in establishing some legal measures that would help transport manufactured goods to unindustrialized areas while still taking the company’s need for profit into consideration. Forcing companies to ship their discarded products is the least of all evils: the company will not be losing merchandise it considers valuable, will not be potentially losing future sales, and will only incur the nominal costs of shipping its merchandise overseas to areas that desperately need such goods.

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4 thoughts on “Invalid or Invaluable?

  1. Perhaps someone dedicated to social entrepreneurship would be interested in starting their own organization relating to this. For a small fee, they could retrieve the excess “waste” that these companies no longer want, and deliver them to where they would be optimally utilized. The organization would of course be helping those who need it most, and the company with the excess is effectively getting rid of the waste that they don’t want to hold. Like you said, it’s certainly an issue most of us have faced in some way – I know for me, I waste a lot of food, so I think there definitely could be some demand to create an organization like this one.

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  2. Lexi, I think you make a really good point and one that is so often overlooked – the title or your article made me curious and I found myself relating to it as I started reading your article. I am guilty of discarding things just because I no longer have the use for them or just simply because I won’t be able to pack it in my car for the drive back home after the semester and these items could definitely have been donated instead. Every so often we’ll hear about a food drive or a clothing drive on campus, but why aren’t these “drives” events that happen all year-round?

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  3. As Mona mentioned, I think you did a great job of discussing an issue that is so often overlooked. Unneeded waste such as food in the case of Dunkin that you mentioned is a large problem. Often you can take a look at dumpsters behind a food store after a power outage or even during a regular day and see mass quantities of food discarded. This massive waste as you suggest could easily go somewhere beneficial, such as local food banks in the case of Dunkin or even handed out free to customers.

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  4. Lexi, very interesting post! I think it is very interesting how you’re addressing to social issues at the same time, one being waste and the other hunger. I definitely think that your idea could be executed however it would only be some products that we can use for this. For example, clothing and other non living items would be potential products that we can carry around. In fact we could create an efficient way through which we measure which zone is in need of what anytime. However, food is not going to make it to the other side of world in a fresh manner, no matter how we handle it.

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