As millions of shoppers flock to Amazon's website for Prime Day deals, an ITV investigation has revealed that a single Amazon fulfillment center in the UK is destroying millions of products a year instead of reselling or donating them.
An anonymous ex-employee at the Dunfermline fulfillment center told ITV that they had a weekly “target” of destroying 130,000 items. “There's no rhyme or reason to what gets destroyed,” they said, citing Macbooks, Dyson Hoovers and sealed face masks among the products that were often thrown out.
ITV also obtained a leaked document from the warehouse revealing that more than 124,000 items were slated to be disposed of in a single week in April, but that number can sometimes reach as high as 200,000, according to a warehouse manager. Only 28,000 products on the document were earmarked for donation.
At this current rate, the Dunfermline fulfillment center alone would dispose of over six million products a year. And this is only one of the 185 centers Amazon operates across the world.
“Staff have just become numb to what they are being asked to do,” the ex-employee said.
This waste includes customer returns or products that were never sold. The investigation concluded that it is cheaper for manufacturers to just dispose of products rather than pay more to continue storing them in Amazon warehouses.
But why don’t they donate the products or allow them to be refurbished?
“Companies don't want a secondary use market of equipment that undermines the sale of new goods. By taking some amount of products out of circulation, it supports the markets that they're trying to create,” Nathan Proctor, director of the USPIRG’s national campaign for the right to repair electronics, told Motherboard.
Electronic waste, or e-waste, has become the “fastest-growing stream of municipal solid waste” worldwide according to the National Institute of Environmental Health and Sciences.
Many electronics contain harmful chemicals or minerals that can be dangerous if ingested at high levels. People who work in electronic waste or informal waste markets, especially in countries such as Nigeria which receives 71,000 tons of used goods alone, also suffer from respiratory and neurodevelopmental issues due to prolonged exposure and improper disposal.
“The amount of damage done to manufacture and dispose of this stuff is really significant. The easiest way to make an impact on this increasingly troubling problem is to have long lasting stuff and less of it,” Proctor said. “We can’t act like we can manufacture and make and dispose of an unlimited quantity of stuff forever, without paying a price as human beings. It's absurd.”
Amazon is not the only major retailer to get busted for improperly disposing of electronic waste. In 2018, Target was fined $7.4 million for breaking California e-waste recycling laws.
“We are committed to reducing our environmental footprint and building a circular economy programme with the aim of reducing returns, reusing and reselling products, and reducing disposals,” Amazon said in a statement to Motherboard. “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.”