Footage of laptops, headphones, books, and more being tossed into bins destined to be discarded or burnt was documented by ITV journalists who went undercover at an Amazon warehouse in Dunfermline, Scotland.
The journalists discovered a leaked document that revealed more than 130,000 items that were marked “destroy” in one week in April, in one U.K. warehouse. The same document showed that 28,000 items in the same period were tagged “donate,” but the size of the amount being donated dwarfed the amount being destroyed.
An anonymous former Amazon employee told ITV that workers were given targets every week of goods to destroy and that the weekly target was a staggering 130,000, which could translate to more than 6 million products per year.
“There’s no rhyme or reason to what gets destroyed: Dyson fans, Hoovers, the occasional MacBook and iPad; or 20,000 COVID (face) masks still in their wrappers,” the ex-employee told ITV.
Amazon responded to the ITV investigation by saying it is “working towards a goal of zero product disposal, and our priority is to resell, donate to charitable organizations or recycle any unsold products. No items are sent to landfill in the U.K. As a last resort, we will send items to energy recovery, but we’re working hard to drive the number of times this happens down to zero.”
Why is this practice happening?
Amazon sellers frequently keep their items at Amazon warehouses, and if something isn’t selling, this means it’s taking up expensive space that could be used for other products that customers would actually want to buy. When the stock is outdated or has been returned, then it can also be considered “unsellable,” finding its way to the trash.
Patrick O’Brien, a retail analyst at analytics firm Global Data, said Amazon specializes in selling products for third-party sellers.
A huge chunk of its retail business comes from its Amazon Marketplace platform. In February, analysts at Marketplace Pulse estimated that third-party products made up $300 billion out of $490 bn of total sales on its site in 2020.
“More of Amazon’s business is becoming the sale of third-party stock,” O’Brien told Insider. “While Amazon charges commission on sales, it also charges for a range of services.” This includes a cost per unit to store items in warehouses, return them to sellers, or dispose of unsold items, he said.
This means if a product isn’t selling on Amazon, the cheapest option is to pay Amazon to get rid of it.
Ugo Vallauri from sustainable electronics social enterprise ‘The Restart Project’ agrees that the world’s tech giants won’t regulate themselves.
Material Focus is focused on growing the number and type of electronic recycling points available to consumers.
“The campaign is funded by producers of electrical appliances”, says Kate Hinton from Material Focus. “The UK government sets annual targets for the recycling of all waste electricals, including small electricals. If producers of electrical appliances don’t meet this target, then they contribute towards a fund, which pays for a range of activities including communications, behavior change activities, increasing recycling collection points, and technical research.”
The practice of destroying goods isn’t a new concept at all. Fashion companies have long been known to burn unsold or returned stock.
But others like Richemont, the Swiss firm behind Cartier and Montblanc, stated in 2018 that it had got rid of more than $500 million worth of watches to prevent them from being obtained by resellers, according to Business Insider.
The process is bad for the environment.
France introduced a landmark law to stop companies from doing just that, covering electronics, luxury goods, and the cosmetics industry.