So I ordered three of these ceramic berry baskets from Crate & Barrel. I have lots of berry bushes here on the homestead. I figured I could also put my garden produce in them or even bring them along to the local farmers market. They are super cute and I love them! The only problem is that they came with a ton of non-recyclable packaging. Obviously when you order stuff online you’re going to get some amount of plastic packaging, but I just felt that this was an unreasonable amount. There was enough bubble wrap and Styrofoam sheeting to fill an entire trash bag. The irony of buying a zero-waste product just to have it wrapped in multiple layers of Styrofoam did not escape me.
I saw that there was a free return label included in the box, so that got me thinking, might I just return the waste back to them? A company I like to use, Booda Organics, gives you a return label with your order just for that purpose. Here in rural Virginia there is no trash pick-up, so I have to get in my car and drive somewhere to get rid of it either way. It makes no difference to me whether I drive it to the post office or to the dump. Actually the post office is closer! So I called up their return department and gave it a go!
First of all, let me just say that everyone I spoke to was very nice. Obviously this is an unusual request but I thought they handled it well. The first person I spoke to told me that she uses the excess packaging for when she needs to pack up orders for her etsy shop. Fair enough, that is an idea. She wasn’t able to authorize the return so she sent me up the chain. The next person suggested that I give it away to someone I know who is moving soon. Again, no dice. This was upped to “leadership” who also said that Crate & Barrel was unwilling to pay for shipping to receive their trash back. However she did give me a tip that if I call the nearest store and tell them I want to place a “phone order” that they will pack up and mail items to me that are in-stock at the store and that I can request that they package the items in paper only. That could be a decent option for future orders.
So I felt like I did get some good tips but was ultimately unsuccessful. It does ask some interesting questions though: Who is responsible for a company’s waste, the company or the customer? If you receive something in the mail you did not ask for, is the company legally responsible to take it back? I ordered the berry baskets, not all the packaging. I did some research through the Federal Trade Commission and it looks as though I could be in my rights to write “Return to Sender” on the box. Clearly the FTC did not envision this to include packaging, but it’s an interesting thing to think about.
When something becomes a hassle for a company, they enact new policies to eliminate the hassle and to increase efficiency. If more consumers take the time to ask to return plastic waste back to the corporation, might the corporation then feel motivated to start using eco-friendly packaging like cardboard and newsprint?