Thursday, January 21, 2010

Borders to donate "non-returnable" goods but will keep trashing most unsold books

Since employees first spoke out and started this campaign on Nov. 30, Borders has dragged its feet, refusing to stop trashing any of the books being destroyed while 182 Waldenbooks and Borders Express stores close down. They've repeatedly denied trashing books. Nearly two months later, with ten days to go before the store closings end, almost 10,000 people have stood up to tell Borders to show some leadership.

Our request was a simple one – for Borders to use this opportunity to take a stand against its own industry's wasteful practices, and pledge to work with publishers to find a way to donate the unsold books instead of destroying them.

Despite our pleas, hundreds of thousands of books have already been trashed.

Trashed books at Borders in California, 1/19. Photo by employee who sent this txt msg: "they dumpstered thousands last night - not recycled"

Borders may have been hoping to stonewall this issue until the store closings ended. But now that the story has spread widely in the blogosphere, on Facebook, and via Twitter, Borders has announced a gesture to donate some goods destined for the dumpsters to non-profits. It would have been PR suicide for them not to. And that's the right thing to do, it fulfills part of what their customers and book lovers everywhere who have signed onto this campaign have been calling for. We applaud Borders for taking a step in the right direction.

However, this announcement doesn't tell the whole story. Borders is only planning to donate "non-returnable" goods. These include many of the store-brand items that employees came forward this week to reveal had been regularly dumpstered:

such as stationary, gift items, pens, pencils, blank journals, greeting cards, and art supplies. And also some books that for whatever reason can’t be returned to publishers.

But the vast majority of unsold mass-market books at Borders stores (like the ones in the above photo) are still going to be trashed. This gesture doesn't mean Borders has agreed to stop destroying books.

And that's a big problem. It's what we've been trying to raise awareness about since this campaign began by shining a light on the books being trashed while Borders closes 182 stores.

For a fuller picture of what Borders plans to donate, here's part of what was posted yesterday (1/20) on Bookmark, the company's internal website:

(Click to view larger sizes)

In the post, Borders offers several reasons to justify not moving to change its ways when it comes to trashing unsold books ("mass market returnables") that will continue to have their covers stripped and be disposed of. It also, ironically, points out how few books of this type remain in the closing Waldenbooks store locations after hundreds of thousands have already been trashed, since they are "working on a solve" in order to "get this limited amount of product to a recycler."

Kudos to Borders for now trying to start recycling the trashed books, because until employees spoke out last month, books went straight into dumpsters at all stores that lack recycling programs. Why recycling initiatives haven't been in place at all Borders stores for years is mystifying. But the books are still being discarded.

Borders is not the only book chain doing this, and big publishers are also to blame.

But as the ones carrying out the actual destruction of books in most cases, retailers have a responsibility as well as publishers to end this wasteful practice. And it's big chains like Borders who are the primary culprits.

We remain hopeful that this isn't Borders' only response to dealing with the problem. If so, they've come up short.


  1. Thank you for blogging about this. I'll be emailing Borders tonight. How can you thorw away books or anything else that is reusable?! So again, thank you for bringing this to my attention

  2. Ya know, when I think about how much small schools like the one I teach at suffer for books, this just makes me SICK!