My resolution for this year is very simple but it has far-reaching consequences. During this year, I will not return anything that I buy, except in rare situations. My catchphrase for the year is:
No more returns.
I used to think that returning things is no big deal. Rather than trying out clothing in the store, I would just pick up a few shirts, take them home, try them out and see if they fit properly. If I didn’t like them, I would just return them the next day. I was sure the store would just sell the goods to somebody else.
Also, the online retailers made the process so easy. A few clicks and I could buy what I wanted and have it shipped to my home address. If I didn’t like it, a few more clicks would produce a printing label for the return. I just needed to drop the package off to a local shipping place and claim a full refund. In most cases, shipping was free. In India, the process is even simpler, as the return package can be picked up from home.
I thought it was a harmless process. If I didn’t want the product, it would go back to warehouse and would, in due course, be sold to somebody else.
I was wrong.
In many cases, the product ends up in a landfill, or is simply incinerated, causing environmental damage. With truckloads of product being returned every day, the numbers really add up.
The CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) recently did a unique experiment. Their investigative reporters bought a dozen everyday products from a leading online retailer, including a backpack, a printer, overalls, toys and some household items. These purchases were sent back to the retailer as received but with a gps tracker hidden inside.
Some of the products travelled hundreds of kilometers from one warehouse to another. While a few items were, indeed, re-sold, many of them were not.
The backpack was in perfect condition when purchased, but it ended up in a landfill. It was, no doubt, manufactured in some country with low labor costs, then shipped to North America, sold, returned to a warehouse and then eventually destroyed. It was pure and simple environmental damage, and it happens every day with the large online retailers.
Even so, the retailers make big profits because they bet on the fact that people will buy more goods than they return. The hidden costs can easily be absorbed in some other product that they sell.
The printer travelled thousands of kilometers across North America before finding its way to another home. Only some out of the items purchased by CBC were actually re-sold over the course of a few months.
The environmental damage? Who cares for that anyway, when there is money to be made?
This year, I have resolved not to be a part of this environmental destruction, setting a few simple rules for myself.
1. I will do my homework before I buy anything.
2. If it’s clothing, I will make sure it’s the right color, the right size, the right material and the right fit for me. If necessary, I will go down to a local store to examine similar products.
3. If it is an appliance or some electronic product, I will do my research and make sure it is exactly what I need.
4. Sometimes, the product may not work properly, or the wrong thing has been sent out, but this is not a common occurrence. If this happens, I will send the product back.
5. There could be other genuine reasons for returning a product. For example, my wife sometimes tries out a pair of shoes at the store and they look good on her. She buys them but within a few days, they start hurting her feet. In such cases, returning a product is justified.
6. I will set myself a target of keeping at least 95% of what I buy; it can never be 100%.
I hope I can convince others to follow these rules, by writing blogs like this. It would make a huge difference to our planet.
From a spiritual perspective, returning things does not make sense. I realize that I am not a great product myself, I have so many manufacturing defects. For starters, I could have been a few inches taller, more like my dad. There are many other defects that are not so obvious. My sense of humor is annoying to many people; my weaknesses greatly outnumber my strengths. Trust me, I am a married man, and I am aware of all my faults.
There is little doubt that I am descended from apes, being a living example of the theory of evolution. I observed a group of monkeys outside a temple a few years ago. They were very mischievous and above all, they were very good copyists. They copied everything I did. In this lifetime, I am an engineer; do I need to say anything more? Currently, my work involves mostly documents but even so, I use the copy /paste command very frequently. The link to the past is evident, even though the technology is more advanced.
As a flawed product, I would not like to be returned to the sender any time soon. I would not like to sit in a cold, damp warehouse for a long time. I would not like to end up in a landfill or be dumped into the ocean or incinerated any time soon. If I don’t wish this for myself, how can I wish this for any product that I buy?
It will soon be my birthday in the new year. This year, please do not wish me “Many happy returns”. Instead, please say:
“No more returns”.
This is my deepest wish in every sense of the word.