Did you see last month’s Wired article on “The Dumpster Diver Who’s Making Thousands Off America’s Biggest Retailers”?
The article, profiling “professional dumpster diver” Matt Malone, highlights an interesting aspect of the retail market that most consumers rarely think about:
What happens to the products that big box stores can’t — or don’t want to — sell?
The Fate of Unsold or Returned Goods
Retailers may have agreements to return overstock or open-box products to the manufacturers for credit, but that raises the question of what the manufacturers are supposed to do with them.
In some cases, those items may end up in dumpsters (where people like Matt Malone scavenge them for a quick profit) or they end up in a landfill. In other cases, those items get destroyed because stores don’t want the Matt Malones of the world taking them (and so those products also end up in landfills).
Or they get shipped around the country to end up in liquidation warehouses waiting for local discount retail shops to snatch them up for pennies on the dollar.
If that sounds wasteful and inefficient, you’re right on the money!
The Wired article caught the attention of a couple of different communities on the social site Reddit, where users quickly honed in on some great insights:
Dumpster diving really only works in the US, or other developed countries. Seeing this only makes me sad that your trash is better than my everyday objects. : (
He’s helping the environment too! All that stuff would just wind up in landfills. They still will in the end I guess, but not for 5-10 or so more years because of him.
When you step back, and consider this from the perspective of someone who doesn’t live in a materialistic, first-world country?
Doesn’t seem so strange at all. What does seem really strange is throwing away quality, valuable goods and then enforcing that those goods cannot be recycled.
It’s certainly not trash… but what is it?
What Malone is talking about is clearly not “trash.” In fact, much of what he’s reclaiming isn’t even used! These are perfectly salable items, which unfortunately end up outside the traditional supply chain.
Before you think that that dumpster diving for brand new high-end electronics is your path to early retirement, however, you should know that the Wired article makes Malone’s profitable finds seem more plentiful than they are.
Reddit user “nowthatihavefoundyou” is skeptical that Malone is generating full-time income from his dumpster diving:
Has something changed in the past 10 years or so? When I worked at Office Depot in college, everything that was returned by a customer that could not be resold was either picked up by company trucks for reclamation or destroyed to the point that it was no longer useful then tossed in the trash with employee and management signing off that it was destroyed. So either something changed or it sounds like there is at least one employee on each of his stops that is in on it.
Or, as others point out, perhaps the article exaggerates his profits a bit for effect. The average consumer just can’t get access to this type of inventory. So how is Malone getting access to all these high-value goods? I don’t have the answer to that.
A $260 Billion Opportunity
Here’s what I do know, however: Returns constitute 10% of the retail market, which adds up to billions of dollars worth of inventory every year that doesn’t have a good way to get back into consumers’ hands. (No, not even if you spend every weekend scouring big box store dumpsters!)
These inefficiencies create a lot of marketplace losers.
Retailers lose out because they aren’t selling those products. You, the consumers, lose out because you don’t get access to goods you might want. Everyone loses because we all bear the impact of wasted resources and landfills filled with items that didn’t serve their useful lives.
Says Ann Calamai, the new Director of Sustainability at Optoro:
The article highlights some major inefficiencies in how we manage consumer returns in the retail industry. It also presents a great opportunity to challenge the status quo — just think of how many great deals we could provide shoppers by reselling these fully functional, like-new products!
While you may know BLINQ as a discount retail site, we’re also actually part of the reverse supply chain funnel. Our parent company works directly with large retailers to solve these problems and source their excess inventory and returned goods at scale.
What does that mean?
- A greener solution: We help prevent waste by keeping valuable goods from being unnecessarily destroyed.
- Better deals: Our relationships with retailers allow us to offer unbeatable discounts on a variety of goods that they don’t want to sell, but you want to buy.
Up to 70% off new and like-new goods when you shop at BLINQ and you’re helping the environment to boot? Sounds like a lot less trouble, and better value for your time, than dumpster diving.