‘Outrageous’: Amazon destroying millions of unsold products every year

Green groups have labelled revelations that the online giant Amazon is destroying millions of items of unsold stock from one of its UK warehouses every year as “an outrageous environmental scandal”.

In an investigation by ITV, undercover filming from inside Amazon's Dunfermline warehouse showed TVs, laptops, drones, hairdryers, top of the range headphones, computer drives, books and thousands of sealed face masks – all sorted into boxes marked “destroy”.

ITV said that almost all of the products - many of which were never sold, or returned by a customer - could have been redistributed to charities or those in need. Instead, ITV said they had tracked the products being thrown into vast bins, carried away by lorries, and dumped at either recycling centres or a landfill site.

An ex-employee, who asked for anonymity, told ITV: "From a Friday to a Friday our target was to generally destroy 130,000 items a week.

"I used to gasp. There's no rhyme or reason to what gets destroyed: Dyson fans, Hoovers, the occasional MacBook and iPad; the other day, 20,000 Covid (face) masks still in their wrappers.

"Overall, 50% of all items are unopened and still in their shrink wrap. The other half are returns and in good condition. Staff have just become numb to what they are being asked to do.”

In one week in April, a leaked document from inside the Dunfermline warehouse showed more than 124,000 items marked 'destroy'. In contrast, just 28,000 items in the same period were labelled 'donate'.

The same manager told ITV that in some weeks, as many as 200,000 items could be marked 'destroy'.

Libby Peake, head of resource policy at Green Alliance, said: “That unopened and perfectly usable goods are going to waste is an outrageous environmental scandal, but it’s only part of the story. 

“Every finished product – whether it makes it into our homes or not – leaves behind it a trail of waste and emissions from the production process. Making a typical smartphone, for instance, requires 160 baths’ worth of water, and at least 6.5kg of mined ore is required to produce the 75g of metal it contains. And the process emits around 60kg of CO2, which is over 300 times the weight of the phone itself. When phones or other products are never even used, that means all of the resources used during production, and not only the phone itself, have been squandered for no purpose.”

Amazon’s actions are not illegal. In response to the investigation it told ITV: “We are working towards a goal of zero product disposal and our priority is to resell, donate to charitable organisations or recycle any unsold products. No items are sent to landfill in the UK. 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.”

A DEFRA spokesperson said it was “vital that more goods are reused or recycled and not condemned to landfill or incineration”.

A spokesperson said: “We are now reviewing the regulations for waste electrical equipment to drive up reuse and recycling, encourage better eco-design and ensure manufacturers and retailers - including online marketplaces - take greater responsibility for waste electricals.”

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