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Image: Amazon

Amazon is coming under fire for reportedly disposing of “millions of items of unsold stock every year,” with many of the products being new and unused. According to an investigation carried out by ITV News at Amazon’s fulfillment center in Dunfermline, Scotland, the British television network found that “smart TVs, laptops, drones, hairdryers, top of the range headphones, computer drives, books galore, [and] thousands of sealed face masks,” among other things, that were not sold and/or were returned to Amazon by consumers were sorted and ultimately, “dumped at either recycling centers or landfill sites.” 

Citing a former Amazon fulfillment center employee, ITV stated that during any given week, the company’s “target” is to “generally destroy 130,000 items,” with the individual, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, stating that there is “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 former employee elaborated, saying that some 50 percent of all disposed-off items are “unopened and still in their shrink wrap,” while the other half “are returns in good condition.” 

ITV reports that the alleged practice of widespread destruction by Amazon is a direct result of the nature of its third-party marketplace and fulfillment model, which sees millions of vendors opting to have Amazon carry out the listing and fulfillment processes. In accordance with that model, third-party vendors ship their products to Amazon warehouses in order to be offered up on its sweeping marketplace site and sold. However, according to ITV, “the longer the goods remain unsold, the more a company is charged to store them [with Amazon].” As a result, “It is eventually cheaper to dispose of the goods, especially stock from overseas, than it is to continue storing the stock.” 

The new report comes as companies like Amazon have made headlines in recent months in connection with their post-Brexit practices. For instance, following the conclusion of the Brexit transition period, companies have faced newly-implemented import charges when consumers in European Union attempt to return products to the companies in the United Kingdom or vice versa. Against that background, at least some companies have found it to be more cost efficient to destroy returned products instead of attempting to get them back from customers, the BBC reported in January.  It is “cheaper for retailers to write off the cost of the goods than it is to deal with it all,” the publication stated. As a result, companies were readily considering “either abandoning or potentially burning” the returned goods instead of shipping them in or out of the EU. 

Meanwhile, in the U.S., in some cases, namely, when the goods are “inexpensive items or large ones that would incur hefty shipping fees,” the Wall Street Journal revealed early this year that companies are addressing the issue of increased e-commerce sales and thus, returns, by having consumers keep the would-be-returned goods, which may also give rise to increased disposal of otherwise salvageable goods. It is “often cheaper to refund the purchase price and let customers keep the products,” the Journal stated, citing Amazon as one of the leaders of this relatively novel practice. 

In an interview prior to the publication of ITV’s investigation, Amazon’s UK Country Manager John Boumphrey told ITV that the amount of goods that the company destroys is “extremely small.” He claimed that Amazon is “working towards a goal of zero product disposal and our priority is to resell, donate to charitable organizations or recycle any unsold products,” asserting that “no items are sent to landfill in the UK, [and] that as a last resort, we will send items to energy recovery, but we are working hard to drive the number of times this happens down to zero.”

A representative for Amazon was not immediately available for comment.