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Amazon Throws Away Millions of Unsold Products Every Year

From MacBooks to COVID-19 masks, this Amazon warehouse destroyed 130,000 items weekly.

Maryland GovPics/Wikimedia Commons

Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer, reportedly destroys millions of unsold products according to an investigation conducted by the British news outlet ITV News. 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 good 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; the other day, 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."

But why does Amazon do this?

Throwing away brand-new items to protect profits sounds incredibly wasteful and somewhat immoral; however, this practice is hardly illegal. Trash has evolved into a categorization system in which items are deemed worthless in certain settings. 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 When the stock is outdated or has been returned, then it can also be considered "unsellable," finding its way to a landfill, potentially.  

This practice of destroying goods isn't a new concept at all -- fashion companies have long been known to burn unsold or returned stock. Over the years, brands such as Burberry, Urban Outfitters, H&M, Nike, Michael Kors, and Victoria's Secret have been accused of doing the same, according to various reports. 

For example, 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 damaging process wreaks havoc on our environment. This is especially true when it comes to tech products, with the average laptop containing numerous rare and precious metals. 

Greenpeace called on the British government to prevent companies from destroying unsold stock by taking legislative action. For example, France introduced a landmark law to stop companies from doing just that, covering electronics, luxury goods, and the cosmetics industry.