I Turned Bottles of Amazon Drivers' Pee into a #1 Bestseller

Amazon don’t care about their workers’ bladders, but do you know what they do care about? Selling stuff.
Oobah Butler with a bottle of piss
Oobah Butler with a bottle of piss. All photos: Courtesy of Oobah Butler

I’m outside the Amazon fulfilment centre in Glendale, California, and I’ve been filling in potholes with cement that I bought from Amazon. I spot something glistening on the side of the road, so I put down my shovel and walk over. It's a bottle of Highland Spring water, but it’s glowing like Wotsits. It is, unmistakably, a bottle of piss, and it’s not the only one. Within a minute, I manage to spot, verify – with a gagging sniff - and collect seven bottles of urine with varying shades of gold.


So where did they come from? I have an inkling. For some time, it’s been public knowledge that Amazon delivery drivers urinate in bottles because of the pressure and unrealistic targets put on them by the company. Amazon have denied this in the past, and then apologised for denying it. Yet here I am, staring at the evidence lining the road leading to the delivery depot. How can I be sure they come from drivers? Well, I could ask.

The first driver I hail down is Christian, who’s worked at Amazon for over a year. He tells me he was once a professional footballer in El Salvador; now he drives a delivery truck in a hip suburb of Los Angeles. “It’s honestly degrading, you know?” he says, with regards to the urine bottles. During the extreme heat of summer – with the relentless pace of the work and the dysfunctional air conditioning in his truck – he says his job becomes more physically demanding than the altitude training he used to do as an athlete. Throughout our chat, he continually checks his work phone. He’s anxious, he says, because “they watch us and keep a score next to our performance.” I don’t want to waste anymore of his time so I ask: Does he have a bottle of piss in his car? And can I see it?

Amazon driver holding his bottle of piss

An Amazon driver showing his bottle of piss.

“I only do this because I have no other options,” he says. “Other people who go slower just end up getting fired.” I let Christian leave, and hail some more drivers. They all confirm that this is, largely speaking, how their life looks. I hear about how female drivers often develop urinary tract infections from holding it in for too long. Then a dispatch manager I bump into by chance confirms that the “disgusting” bottles of urine outside of fulfilment centres are from Amazon drivers. ​​“We have a point system where, if you pee in a bottle and leave it in the car, you get a point for that,” they tell me. I ask: How many bottles until they’re in trouble? “Ten bottles.”

Over the coming months, I visit different fulfilment centres and interview drivers across the world as part of my documentary The Great Amazon Heist. I find that in Italy, Spain, the UK and certain parts of the United States, the issue is exactly the same. Amazon is flooding the Western world with piss bottles. I feel like I’m onto something big, and I have to do something about it. But what can I do? The issue has been reported on widely, and that hasn’t stopped it from happening. I need to try something different; something that could blow this piss up.

Then it hits me. Clearly Amazon don’t care about their workers’ bladders. But you know what they do care about? Products. And their platform. What if there was a way to make a product out of these urine bottles, list it on Amazon, and do everything in my power to drive it to #1? Now that would get their attention.


Step One: The Product

Back in the UK, my first step was to gather as many urine bottles as possible. So I head down to the Amazon fulfilment centre outside of Tilbury, Essex, and get myself set up.

Oobah Butler holding a sign reading Designated Urine Collection Point

A sign reading: "Designated Urine Collection Point".

After half a day, I have enough on my hands to work with. But what type of product can I make? What’s something people just can’t resist today? Something that sells quickly and without much scrutiny? One thing I’ve noticed recently is the popular surge in pump-and-dump energy drinks backed by internet stars. So why not an energy drink?

A bin full of bottles of urine.

The collection begins.

But what would it look like? I sit down in my basement for an afternoon with my friend Stan Cross, a writer and visual artist, and we toss some names around. Drive? It’s already taken. #1? Too much. How about something that does exactly what it says on the tin: “Release”. Or “Release Energy”, to be precise. It’s perfect.

Now, I want some taglines that truly capture the ingenuity of this product, and I have some ideas. “The world's first fully reusable energy drink”, “once you’re done with its contents, simply fill it back up to the brim and start again” and of course, “infinite refills”.

Now, for the design, and Stan has something up his sleeve. Bask in the glory of Release Energy’s vivid colour and shrewd marketing.


See how we clearly display the chemical make-up of human urine:

The label of Release Energy

The label of Release Energy, showing urea and uric acid in its ingredients.

Step Two: The Method

With our product in hand, it’s time to list it on Amazon as a drink. But surely Amazon’s algorithm has protocols in place to stop random people from just selling things on there that aren’t safe? With that in mind, I start by tentatively listing Release Energy in the ‘refillable pump dispenser’ category. However, in the product description and photos I don’t hide that this is a drink and one that’s made from urine. Quite quickly, we’re live. And then something happens that I don’t expect. Amazon’s algorithm automatically moves the product into the ‘energy drinks’ category, bypassing the entire platform’s protections around food and drinks licensing.

I smell an opportunity. If only I could get it shifted across into the less competitive ‘bitter lemon’ drinks category, then my dream of having a #1 drink on Amazon made out of drivers’ urine could come true. I try to switch it but the platform blocks my move, and ensures me that I’m wrong: This is an energy drink, not a bitter lemon drink. The algorithm knows best! I exchange emails with different departments for months, but they just won’t budge. On the verge of giving up, I decided to pose as a disgruntled small business owner – which I technically am – and email the executive team at Amazon UK to ask them to change the listing for me.


After an exchange of emails...

The Release Energy listing on Amazon.

The Release Energy listing goes live.

The product description of Release Energy.

The product description of Release Energy, an "extraordinary concept that challenges the boundaries of energy drinks".

The listing is live as a Bitter Lemon Drink! Now it’s time to make it a #1 bestseller.

Step Three: The Execution

I create a list of everyone I know and badger them to buy a bottle of Release Energy. I mean come on, it’s only £1! I want as many of them as possible to buy the drink in as short a time as possible, so that it spikes the algorithm. Then, I collate a team of volunteers to help me run the operation – Rhys, Vianne, Rebecca, Ariella, Matthew, Rachel – and get to work.

Before I know it, the sales are rolling in and the reviews are racking up.

Release Energy review on Amazon titled "Gee Whizz"
Release Energy review on Amazon titled "Ur in for a treat!"
Release Energy review on Amazon titled "Wetting myself with excitement"

The first 30 purchases fly by, then we’re up to 50. Soon we’re creeping up on 80 sales, and we don’t see any update from Amazon’s algorithm. Then something weird happens: Real strangers who I have not enlisted to help start noticing the drink and purchasing it. I briefly considered sending them a genuine bottle of piss through the post. Maybe I could get rich doing this? It could be the next Goop? But I decide against it, and cancel those orders.

Finally, Amazon’s algorithm updates, and it’s not good news.


In other words, I’ve fucked it. Amazon is onto me. Who did I think I was? Thinking it was possible to get a #1 drink on Amazon made out of drivers’ urine. There’s no way the largest online retailer on earth would allow this to happen. I’d dreamt too far this time. But then, another update:

Release Energy as the number one best seller in Amazon for Bitter Lemon drinks
Screengrab showing best sellers rank for bitter lemon drink

It had happened! Number one! Take that, Schweppes! You’re done. Release Energy Drink is #1.


Amazon is the biggest marketplace in the world. It’s fast, convenient and frictionless: Buy a rocket lamp now and it will arrive at your door like magic within a day. But it’s also the Wild West; a dangerously powerful platform that is oblivious and ignorant of its own inner workings. I set out to discover if Amazon marketplace was blind and insecure enough to let me list bottles of its own driver’s piss as an energy drink. I couldn’t have predicted how easy it would be.


In a statement, Amazon said: “Safety is a top priority for Amazon and we require all products offered in our store to comply with applicable laws and regulations.

“We have industry-leading tools to prevent genuinely unsafe products being listed and we monitor our stores for genuine product safety concerns.” Unfortunately, Release was removed from Amazon shortly afterwards.

The Great Amazon Heist comes out on October 19th at 10PM on Channel 4. You can watch the show live or catch up on 4 Player.