Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer, destroys millions of items of unsold stock, many of them new and unused, every year in its UK warehouses, according to an investigation by ITV News.
It secretly filmed inside the company’s huge fulfilment centre in Dunfermline, in Scotland, where it says that “smart TVs, laptops, drones, hairdryers, top-of-the-range headphones and computer drives”, among other items, had been sorted into boxes marked Destroy.
From a Friday to a Friday our target was to generally destroy 130,000 items a week. I used to gasp
In one week in April, according to a leaked document that ITV quotes, more than 124,000 items at the warehouse were marked Destroy. A further 28,000 items had been labelled Donate. The Dunfermline warehouse is one of 24 such facilities in the UK, from where Amazon also supplies customers in Ireland.
The ITV News report, by its correspondent Richard Pallot, quotes a former manager who says: “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 masks still in their wrappers.
“Overall, 50 per cent 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.”
ITV News says Amazon’s business model is behind the huge amount of waste. “Many vendors choose to house their products in Amazon’s vast warehouses. But the longer the goods remain unsold, the more a company is charged to store them. It is eventually cheaper to dispose of the goods, especially stock from overseas, than to continue storing the stock.”
Sam Chetan Welsh of the environmental charity Greenpeace told ITV News: “It’s an unimaginable amount of unnecessary waste, and just shocking to see a multibillion pound company getting rid of stock in this way. Stuff that’s not even single use but not being used at all, straight off the production line and into the bin. As long as Amazon’s business model relies on this kind of disposal culture, things are only going to get worse. The [UK] government must step in and bring in legislation immediately.”
In an interview before he was aware of the investigation, Amazon’s UK boss, John Boumphrey, told ITV News that the amount the company destroys is “extremely small”.
What Amazon – which last year reported global revenue of $386 billion, or almost €325 billion – is doing is not illegal. In a response to the findings of ITV News’s investigation, the company says: “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.”