Jan 8, 2010

Tip of the Greed Iceberg

The Sins: Greed

This morning I booted up the computer and headed to Yahoo to check an email account. The first thing I saw was this article about destroyed merchandise in trash bags a young woman named Cynthia Magnus discovered in Manhattan behind H&M store and a Walmart on 35th street. The story made the New York Times.

Recently, during a family shopping trip to our nearest Walmart, I looked at the stores we were passing – Target, KMart, Old Navy – all touting deep after-Christmas discounts, and thought of all the unused, unsold clothes, shoes, etc. still sitting on shelves and racks. I said to my daughter, “I wonder what happens to all that unsold stuff?” To which she replied, “Big Lots.” I said, “No, Big Lots doesn’t buy up all that stuff. Maybe some of it gets sold in bulk to third world countries. I hope so.” I then recalled the trashed merchandise I had seen in my own time. Slashed shoes in the dumpster behind the Fayva Shoe Store in Riverhead, New York. Books with their front covers torn off in dumpsters behind book stores. For all I know, this practice continues, because I still see notices in some paperbacks informing me that the book may be considered “stolen” if I purchased it without its cover. The book sellers remove the covers and return them for a credit when unsold and then trash the rest of the book. And I personally worked for a company that followed the same trashing practice. In the 1990s I worked for Waldbaum’s Supermarkets on Long Island and saw massive quantities of perfectly good food sent down the garbage chute, including an entire refrigerated truckload of turkeys after one Thanksgiving. When I asked the management why all this food had to be thrown away rather than donated to people, I was told it was due to insurance regulations. Tropical and decorative plants from the produce and floral departments were also trashed. Now, concern over donating some outdated food that might be spoiled and sicken someone, leading to a lawsuit has some validity; however, where do tropical and decorative plants figure into that equation? Often, I attempted to take home the plants and despite the fact that they were being tossed into the trash, I was repeatedly told I could not take home the trash plants!

So, have H&M and Walmart been “caught” doing something new or unique? Absolutely not. Cynthia Magnus just found a small tip of the greed iceberg. I do not dumpster dive and trash pick as often as I used to, but I assure you that anyone who has some time to peek into dumpsters behind shopping outlets will see the same thing Cynthia Magnus saw. Over the years I have noticed dumpsters becoming more and more inaccessible and secure. Many are connected to a building, rather than being freestanding. Many have locks. Most have notices warning that it is forbidden to dump trash in them unless it is trash specific to the store itself. My old pastime of peeking in dumpsters for goodies has probably faded away due to these deterring factors. I used to think that the problem of people dumping unauthorized trash was the reason behind tighter trash security measures. Now I am thinking the business world would rather not have the consumer seeing what becomes of the merchandise. Could it be?

“Oh, but if we give the stuff away, then no one will want to buy stuff and no one will be needed to make all the stuff and no one will make stuff and no one will work and no one will make money and no one will get paid and, and, and…”

Here’s a radical thought – every day, for ten minutes, imagine a world without money. None. At all. Let your imagination really play it out without listening to the monkey babble. The world might just be a better place and everyone might just have what they need and everyone might be happier and healthier. Imagine that. What a blessing whoever created us and put us here on this incredibly abundant and beautiful planet didn’t charge us for the soil, water, and air or send us a monthly bill for the time rental on our lifespan, eh?

Well, why did we make too much in the first place? And why throw it out when people who have no money may benefit from it? There are still enough people in the world buying things who are driven to spend money on the next new thing and wouldn’t WANT something for free – to them, it is the price tag itself and the spending of money that is part of the entire shopping experience. When I think of all the unused merchandise that is trashed, I think of the spurned lover turned murderer dynamic – “If I can’t have you, nobody can!” Bang, bang, stab, stab – lover dies. Megastore says, “If I can’t exchange these goods for cash, then nobody can get them!” Slash, slash, trash, trash. Who dies when this happens? We all do, we just refuse to see it.

Originally posted to Dunnea.net

1 comment:

  1. Thanks so much for posting this. It's horrid. Particularly the food waste. I remember my disgust at learning that many countries have produce standards and disgard "ugly" vegetables. Just giant landfills stuffed with rotting crooked cucumbers and lopsided tomatoes.

    On the books, I should caveat that it's specifically mass market books. They're printed on low-grade paper stock, and considered as disposable as newspapers. Something else happens with remaindered trade hardcover and paperbacks. I don't know quite what, because it wasn't my area. I just remember discussions of this issue in marketing meetings, when I worked in publishing.

    I read somewhere, years ago, that Dunkin' Donuts donated unsold donuts to homeless shelters, but I have no idea if they still do that. Not very nutritious, but it's something.

    The simple truth is that capitalism is based on restricting the flow of goods and services to maximize profit. We could also discuss such lovely business models as planned obsolescence. In Michael Moore's new movie, Capitalism: A Love Story, he asks Catholic priests if capitalism is immoral. They say unambiguously that it is. One could definitely make that argument. As to a world without money, we may be headed there by circumstance anyway, because the current system is simply collapsing.


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