Amazon Allegedly Destroys Over 130,000 Unsold Items in a Week, Including TVs, Laptops & More
Updated: Aug 21, 2021
With the semiconductor shortage and an increased focus on sustainability and recycling recently, news that e-commerce platform Amazon destroys over 130,000 unsold items a week is definitely shocking.
Just a day after Amazon kicked off its annual Prime Day sale, a report has surfaced claiming that the e-commerce giant trashes millions of unsold items per year – some of which include gadgets that are new and still sealed in original packaging.
British news outlet ITV on Monday, 21 June, uploaded undercover clips recorded by an employee from Amazon’s Dunfermline, Scotland warehouse showing stock being sorted into boxes marked “destroy”. Items reportedly include TVs, laptops, tablets, drones, computer drives and sealed face masks, among many others.
An ex-employee of Amazon, who remained anonymous, told ITV that the warehouse targets over 130,000 items to destroy each week.
“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,” said the ex-employee.
Up to half of the items that are sent to be destroyed are said to be unused and unopened while the other half are returns that are still in good condition.
These claims were backed up by a leaked internal document that ITV obtained, showing that 124,000 items were marked “destroy” in one week in April. The document also showed that 28,000 items were marked “donate” in the same period.
This practice might not be unique to Amazon as other companies possibly also have a destroy policy in place. A company that produces and sells earbuds told Tech360.tv anonymously that the company had to destroy a high number of returned earbuds due to hygiene reasons.
With regards to why e-commerce platforms are destroying usable and functioning goods, ITV believes that the platforms’ business models are to blame. In Amazon’s case, it charges vendors for stock stored in its warehouses, and when these stocks go unsold, it eventually becomes cheaper to dispose of them than to keep paying for storage.
There’s also the concern of health and safety, as the anonymous company points out. While the company did not provide details on how many returned products get destroyed, they stressed that their complaint is about the returns policy from local e-commerce platform Lazada resulting in high enough amounts of returned products to hurt their profits. For context, Lazada has a return policy that allows customers to return their orders within 7 to 15 days of receiving them if they’re not satisfied with the product. Based on quick checks of both Lazada Singapore and Shopee Singapore’s return policy, both e-commerce platforms offer the same 7 and 15-day return policies.
The company also stated that returned products are first sent to Lazada, but there’s no process in place for checking whether an electronics product is truly damaged. According to the company, when Lazada accepts the returns, there’s no room for argument when the product is returned to the company.
The question then follows; this return policy might be beneficial for consumers, but is it good for companies?
We reached out to Lazada for comment, and a spokesperson stated: “Lazada follows standard industry practices to determine the validity of a product return. If found to be valid, the returned product is sent back to the seller for their management. Lazada has a 7- and 15- day return policy for non-LazMall and LazMall products respectively, to allow customers the ease of returning products with a valid reason.”
Amazon also destroys items that could possibly be contaminated, as one Reddit user who claims to be a former employee explained. A single spot or food speck on a returned blender, for instance, immediately warrants its destruction or liquidation. The same goes for any medical supplies and equipment like face masks.
ITV’s footage shows the marked boxes from Amazon’s Scotland warehouse being driven to a recycling centre, as well as what is believed to be a landfill site. But an Amazon spokesperson clarifies in a statement sent to Insider that the so-called landfill site in the video is actually another recycling centre.
“We are working toward 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,” said the spokesperson.
Insider estimates that up to 6 million unsold products are destroyed by Amazon each year. It’s worth mentioning that what these e-commerce platforms are doing is actually not illegal – at least not yet, as of right now. With more people keeping an eye on sustainability practices though, we might see these big e-commerce platforms accelerate their move to stop the disposal or destruction of products that can still be donated or repurposed.
Written by Kyle Chua