Amazon destroys millions of brand-new items including televisions, books and nappies it cannot sell, an investigation has revealed.
Lorry-loads of goods, many still in their packaging, are dumped in sprawling landfill sites or incinerated. The shocking waste was revealed by undercover investigators who secretly filmed in one of the multi-billion-pound company’s enormous warehouses.
Reporters posing as Amazon workers discovered an area called the ‘destruction zone’ where they covertly filmed staff loading pristine toys, unused kitchen equipment and flat-screen TVs into skips to be transported to dumps.
Later, cameras fitted to a drone tailed a truck crammed with expensive consumer goods from an Amazon warehouse to a waste disposal centre and on to a landfill site.
The French investigation focused on Amazon’s operation in that country, but it is understood the practice is also followed in Britain. When a Mail on Sunday reporter posing as a worker at an Amazon warehouse in the Midlands asked what happens to unsold goods, a manager told him: ‘Some are returned but some are also destroyed.’
When this newspaper asked the company a series of detailed questions, including whether it destroys unused goods in the UK, it repeatedly refused to answer. Instead, a spokesman said: ‘For unsold products we partner with a number of charities including In Kind Direct, which works with non-profit organisations to distribute goods to charities across the UK.’
In the documentary, company bosses told how the retail giant charges companies £22 for a metre of space to store their products. But that cost leaps to £430 for the same space after six months and £860 after a year.
In one case, a businessman who featured in the programme said Amazon charged his company £17 an item to return goods but just 13p to destroy them. Suppliers say that when their products do not sell they are left with no choice but to pay Amazon to destroy them because they cannot afford to have them returned or continue to be stored.
Pensions Minister Guy Opperman said: ‘Amazon should be completely ashamed of themselves. This is not proper business practice and I would encourage them to review the commercial arrangements they have with their suppliers.’
Labour MP Mary Creagh, chairman of the Environmental Audit Committee, added: ‘This is both shocking and heartbreaking to see.
‘At a time when millions are struggling to make ends meet and afford everyday essentials, it is scandalous that unused products are simply being destroyed when they could be given to people in need.
‘On top of that, this kind of policy has disastrous consequences for the environment. Amazon was one of the worst performing retailers in the Audit Committee’s recent inquiry and it is shocking to see these destructive policies are now widespread across the company.’
In the TV documentary, shown on French channel M6, investigators obtained official Amazon figures that showed that more than three million brand-new products were destroyed in France last year.
The retail giant boasts more than 300 so-called ‘fulfilment centres’ worldwide – each the size of ten football pitches.
In the programme, Zhongwang Zheng, the boss of a Chinese stationery company, told how Amazon in France had destroyed hundreds of his unsold goods and added that he had products in Amazon’s UK warehouses that would also be destroyed. Mr Zheng told The Mail on Sunday: ‘Amazon UK sells our products. The UK is our main storage centre but Amazon has destroyed our products there.
‘After around six months or a year, if the goods are not sold Amazon will start charging storage fees. But the charges are very high so Amazon either throws the goods away or ships them back to China.
But the cost of having products shipped back is too high for a factory like ours. Amazon will sometimes advise us to change the price, but sometimes they will advise us to destroy products. My personal view is that if products don’t sell, Amazon should donate them to charity rather than throw them away.’
In 2017, Amazon almost halved its UK tax bill from £7.4 million the previous year to just £4.5 million – despite its profits tripling from £24 million to £72 million.
Last night, Craig Bennett, chief executive of Friends Of The Earth, said: ‘Amazon has been criticised before for its wasteful packaging and pollution from deliveries, and now we’re seeing evidence which suggests it is choosing to destroy perfectly good products too.
‘Not only is this likely adding to polluting landfill, electronics take huge amounts of water and resources to produce and are responsible for climate-wrecking emissions when they’re shipped.
‘The public will be outraged at such wasteful behaviour and reckless disregard for the planet.’
Last year, it emerged that luxury fashion brand Burberry burned more than £28 million worth of clothes, accessories and cosmetics to prevent them being sold off cheaply. Critics branded the practice ‘the fashion industry’s dirty secret’ and urged the company to stop overproducing goods.