Exclusive: Watch footage showing the 'destruction zone' in Amazon's Dunfermline warehouse where millions of unsold items are destroyed every year
Online giant Amazon is destroying millions of items of unsold stock every year, products that are often new and unused, ITV News can reveal.
Footage gathered by ITV News shows waste on an astonishing level. And this is from just one of 24 fulfilment centres they currently operate in the UK.Undercover filming from inside Amazon's Dunfermline warehouse reveals the sheer scale of the waste: 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”.
Products that were never sold, or returned by a customer. Almost all could have been redistributed to charities or those in need. Instead, they are thrown into vast bins, carried away by lorries (which we tracked), and dumped at either recycling centres or, worse, a landfill site.
An ex-employee, who asked for anonymity, told us: "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: Dyson fans, Hoovers, the occasional MacBook and iPad; the other day, 20,000 Covid (face) masks still in their wrappers.
"Overall, 50 percent of all items are unopened and still in their shrink wrap. The other half are returns and in good condition. Staff have just become numb to what they are being asked to do.”
In one week in April, a leaked document from inside the Dunfermline warehouse showed more than 124,000 items marked 'destroy'. To repeat, that's just for seven days. In contrast, just 28,000 items in the same period were labelled 'donate'. The same manager admitted to us that in some weeks, as many as 200,000 items could be marked 'destroy'.
Why are hundreds of thousands of products being destroyed in this way? The answer is Amazon’s hugely successful business model. Many vendors choose to house their products in Amazon’s vast warehouses. But the longer the goods remain unsold, the more a company is charged to store them. It is eventually cheaper to dispose of the goods, especially stock from overseas, than to continue storing the stock.
Greenpeace's Sam Chetan Welsh told us: “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. The government must step in and bring in legislation immediately.”In an interview before he knew about our investigation, Amazon’s UK boss John Boumphrey told ITV News the amount the company destroys is “extremely small.”
What Amazon is doing is not illegal. In a response to the findings of our investigation, the company said: “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.”
Go forty miles southwest from Dunfermline and you’ll arrive in Glasgow, where the UK will host the world’s biggest ever climate conference in November. And yet, just up the road, Amazon is producing huge amounts of environmental waste.
Leaders could do worse than begin by telling the world’s biggest online retailer to set an example.
What has the response been to ITV News' investigation?
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng told ITV News he was "very surprised" about the findings of our investigation and said he wanted "to get to the bottom of what is actually happening".
"I know that Amazon is committed to net zero, they’ve committed huge amounts of investment to the rainforest, to keeping the rainforest going and I’m surprised," Mr Kwarteng said.
"I haven’t read the report so I need to look at the report to see what my response is. But I think Amazon should do the right thing and it would be very disappointing if this is true."