Employee Insights: Amazon’s Destruction of Millions of Products

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By Matthew Gaskin

Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer, destroys millions of items and unused stock! Many of them are new and still sealed, every year in their UK warehouses, according to an ITV news exclusive investigation.

This investigation was secretly filmed at the Amazon fulfilment centre in Dunfermline, Scotland. The sheer scale of waste being produced from: “Smart TVs, laptops, drones, hairdryers, top of the range headphones, computer drives, books galore, thousands of sealed face masks – all sorted into boxes marked destroy”

Furthermore the ITV news Correspondent Richard Pallet interviewed a former employee stating. “From a Friday to a Friday our target was to generally destroy 130,000 items a week…  I used to gasp. There’s no rhyme or reason to what gets destroyed”. So much of new stock and returns are being destroyed, instead of being donated or used for charitable purposes.

Disposal & Problems

To dispose of the products, most were brought to waste management plants for electrical items. However the other non-electrical items went to a UK landfill site. This is a global problem with consumerism and the environmental impact it has on our climate.

What is Consumerism and why does this have an impact? Consumerism refers to the public or the consumer spending money to buy a product or consume goods. Manufacturers have used this ideology to mass produce and make a variety of products for the consumers’ demand, giving consumers free choice to buy products. 

This has an economic impact as there is more choice and a range of products being overproduced, where the consumer may need/want only a certain amount of that goods or may need a different product altogether. Leaving excess items that nobody wants or needs, causing the products to be thrown in landfill if the product is not reused or recycled.

A report from The Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs published on 19th March 2020, the UK accumulated 26,411 thousand tonnes of waste from 2018 which is less than the previous year. However there were “decreases in the recycling rates for England (-0.5 percentage points), Scotland (-0.7 percentage points) and Wales (-1.1 percentage points)”

If this methodology is to continue, we will need more areas for landfill waste. Leading to environmental impact on our climate, deforestation, ecosystems destroyed and the burning of landfill waste. Thus, creating greenhouse gasses and toxins to the environment which could have an irreversible impact on our planet and atmosphere.   

Greenpeace’s Sam Chetan Welsh told ITV “It’s an unimaginable amount of unnecessary waste, and just shocking to see a multi billion pound company getting rid of stock in this way. Stuff that’s not even single use but not being used at all, straight off the production line and into the bin. As long as Amazon’s business model relies on this kind of disposal culture, things are only going to get worse.”

Additionally Turkey received nearly 40% of the UK’s plastic waste exports in 2020 from the overproduction and manufacturing of single use plastics. How can we improve upon the waste of consumerism and the overproduction of non reusable products, without impacting the environment or sending our waste to other countries?

Solutions & Improvements

An Amazon spokesperson stated “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.” 

Amazon is committed to improving their environmental footprint and tries not to send anything to landfills this is only as a last resort. Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said “I know that Amazon is committed to net zero, they’ve committed huge amounts of investment to the rainforest, to keep the rainforest going and I’m surprised.” Continuing to state “I haven’t read the report so I need to look at the report to see what my response is.”

Although companies try to make improvements, there is still so much waste impacting on the environment and causing climate issues.  “I’m afraid it’s one of those things we’re just going to have to look into and get back to you.” was a comment from Boris Johnson. This shows the current laws set in place such as landfill tax needs to be addressed.

This has been called out before at the G7 Summit when climate protesters wanted global warming issues to be looked over. So how can these be improved?

Companies and Manufactures should use reusable plastic wherever possible to improve on the environmental impact. Not to overproduce for Consumers as it wastes material and income for the companies. Consumers at home should use goods before spoilage and donate old items to charity or recycle the products to cause less waste. 

Affect on the Law

How exactly will this affect everyone? Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said “We are clear that the UK should handle more of its waste at home, and that’s why we are committed to banning the export of plastic waste to non-OECD countries and clamping down on illegal waste exports – including to countries such as Turkey – through tougher controls.

Firstly stricter policies such as banning the exports of plastic and waste to other countries and to keep more of its waste at home. 

Secondly, improving landfill tax for companies dumping waste in landfill sites. 

Thirdly, extending producer responsibility to plastic packaging and mandatory electronic waste tracking to boost and improve upon recycling rates.

Ultimately if we improve consumerism and find ways to reduce waste, we can all adjust to decreasing our environmental impact.
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