In three days, the Waldenbooks and Borders Express store closings will officially be over (even though the vast majority of locations have already shut their doors), and more than 15,000 people have stood up to tell Borders to Donate, Not Dumpster! It's a good time to review Borders' overall response to getting called out for dumpstering.
After being outed by employees for trashing books when this campaign started Nov. 30, Borders repeatedly denied it to the public, claiming "we will not be disposing of books as a result of the 182 Waldenbooks store closures." Borders executives stepped forward after the story broke in HuffPo on Dec. 11, and repeated these denials.
Behind the scenes, they were scrambling to cover their tracks. On Dec. 31, all stores without recycling programs were instructed to stop dumpstering books and other merchandise ("non-returnable product") until further notice. On Jan. 7, this directive was clarified when stores were internally notified that the company would now be recycling all the books it was regularly throwing away in dumpsters.
This was the first positive action taken on this issue by Borders. Kudos for their decision to start recycling the formerly trashed books.
How many stores this included is unclear, and why recycling initiatives haven't been in place at all 800+ Borders locations for years is mystifying. This action is something Borders never publicly announced, and Borders' PR department hasn't mentioned it much, because to stress the point would mean admitting how irresponsible the company's merchandise disposal policies had been up until Dec. 31, 2009.
Even recycled, the books are still being discarded. What about re-use? If the books are being destroyed anyway, couldn't they ALL be donated? Borders still needs to work with publishers to find a better way.
As the store closings accelerated during January, Borders kept stonewalling. They swore up and down that "we do not expect to have product to donate or to dispose of" in e-mails sent in response to thousands of concerned customers who contacted them.
And they kept disposing of hundreds of thousands books in the meantime, stripping the covers from whatever books they could return to publishers, and shipping the coverless books back to distribution centers for recycling. What the Washington Post described as a "mountain" of books were trashed.
Then, as the story spread more widely in the blogsophere, on Facebook, and Twitter, Borders publicly announced a gesture on Jan. 21 to donate some goods destined for the dumpsters to non-profits.
We applaud Borders for taking a second step in the right direction by agreeing to donate some "non-returnable product," most of which includes items other than books.
Although nothing has changed regarding the vast majority of the BOOKS they're still trashing - estimated to be 80% or more of all unsold books at chain stores.
Mass-market books will continue to be destroyed by Borders or returned to publishers for disposal, millions of books a year. These include all kinds of paperbacks – best-sellers, thrillers, mysteries, sci-fi, the works. Unsold hardcovers also get returned to publishers, and 65 – 95 percent are destroyed by pulping.
We remain hopeful that these two steps aren't Borders' only response to dealing with the problem. If so, they've come up short.
They also claim to have "started a dialogue within the publishing industry to address industry wide practices -- which all book retailers practice, not just Borders -- that could possibly be changed with positive impacts on communities and the environment." And we'll take them at their word, and look forward to hearing what comes out of it.
However, as Borders' PR team has reminded us, they are not the only book chain trashing books. Now that public awareness has been raised about dumpstering, it's time for Barnes & Noble and other chains to have a light shined their way. And big publishers are also to blame.
So this is the last week we're going to focus solely on Borders' role in this system.
Borders' current shaky financial situation was underscored this week by the resignation of the company's CEO Ron Marshall after barely a year on the job, and the news they will be laying off 10% of corporate staff. We've been calling for Borders to take a stand against their own industry's wasteful business practices, but the reality is that what they've done so far is all we can realistically expect from Borders for now. They're too focused on their own survival to do much else.
But the steps Borders has already taken in response to pressure from its employees, customers, and book lovers everywhere are a partial victory for everyone who spoke out, e-mailed, called, blogged, Tweeted, and otherwise helped Tell Borders to do the right thing. Thank you all!