ITV News Correspondent Richard Pallot reports on the evidence ITV News has been shown
ITV News has seen evidence the online retail giant Amazon has been sending huge pallets of unopened food and drink to be destroyed during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The footage shows hundreds of items including cans of soup and baked beans, multipacks of unopened crisped, bottled water, instant noodles and coffee pods - all still in their original seals, in vast bins labelled ‘waste’. The footage shows many of the items are still within their use-by-date.
It was filmed by a current member of staff at the Dunfermline depot in Scotland, who works in the returns department, where the unused items had been sent back to.
On condition of anonymity, he told ITV News: “I reckon 70 percent of what we put into bins is sealed and in its packaging.
"It’s stuff like Heinz tins of soups or tins of beans.
"Unopened bottles of water, coke, orange squash or nutrition drinks.
"I’ve also thrown away in date fancy chocolates or Easter Eggs, treats that kids would love.”
The member of staff contacted ITV News after our report last month about 125,000 items of electrical and non-electrical waste being marked out weekly for destruction in the same warehouse.
Amazon says they don’t donate sealed food that’s been returned or left their warehouses because they can’t guarantee its safety.
Exclusive: Watch footage showing the 'destruction zone' in Amazon's Dunfermline warehouse where millions of unsold items are destroyed every year
Half an hour’s drive away from Dunfermline is the Community One Stop Shop in Broomhouse. This part of Edinburgh is one of most socially deprived areas of the Scottish capital.
Mother-of-three Kelly comes in every Tuesday morning to pick up free and essential supplies. She calls Amazon’s behaviour “disgusting, especially when times are so tough".
"It makes me so angry," she continues.
"Sickens my heart as I know how much we struggle with paying our bills, we can't afford food often. I’d take everything on offer, do anything for my kids."
Rebecca Dixon is one of those who runs the food bank and says she would "drive up there personally to collect this stuff on a daily basis.
"It doesn’t matter if it is nearing the end of its life. There are so many families who would welcome it all," she said.
ITV News can also reveal the sheer scale of Amazon's product waste in the UK, as employees from eight different Amazon warehouses have told us they destroy new and unsold products as part of their jobs.
It indicates that the levels of Amazon’s waste goes far beyond what we uncovered last month at the Dunfermline depot. One woman who worked until recently on a temporary contract at Amazon’s Darlington branch, while she was training to be a teaching assistant, said she was close to tears disposing of endless books that were new or as-good-as. “You’re making me emotional just thinking about it,” she told ITV News. “Working with children, I thought it was disgusting seeing what goes in a bin.
"I could pick those books up and take them to the school where I’m helping and it would light up so many children’s little faces. It would help parents that can’t afford to go out and get these books – often GCSE study books, revision books, stuff that is expensive and can change lives.”
She says she resigned from Amazon because she was horrified by what she saw.
A staff member at one of Amazon’s Bedfordshire fulfilment centres told ITV News he repeatedly had to destroy multiple packs of pet food when only one item in the batch was missing. Another Amazon worker told ITV News that during a renovation of the Daventry warehouse last year, huge numbers of toys, books and clothes were binned to make space. Meanwhile in Bolton, a former employee there said tablets, phones and battery packs are destroyed regularly.
Separately, a survey for ITV News by the employment rights group ‘Organise’, revealed more than a quarter of Amazon employees they questioned said destroying such items is part of their job in the UK.
Pavlina Draganova, Global Network Lead at Organise, told ITV News: “Hundreds of Amazon warehouse workers are sounding the alarm about the destruction of tens of thousands of items by Amazon each week.
"Smart TVs, laptops, jewellery, books - every day piles of these items are being disposed of and destroyed instead of reused and donated.
"Many Amazon workers take pride in their work but they're deeply upset at this senseless destruction they're witnessing daily. We hope Amazon’s senior leadership will listen to their workforce and engage seriously with these demands.”
ITV News Correspondent Richard Pallot explains what the government's reaction has been and what happens next
ITV News’ revelations comes as leaders of six of the UK’s biggest environmental groups wrote to the Prime Minister today urging him to work with the devolved administrations to introduce new rules on what companies can and cannot do with unsold or returned products. The letter from Greenpeace UK, the Environmental Investigation Agency, Friends of the Earth, Whale and Dolphin Conservation, the Green Alliance, and Surfers Against Sewage came in response to ITV News’ investigation into Amazon UK. Speaking of their shock in seeing perfectly good products being marked for destruction, the group has written: "These practices are the embodiment of everything that’s wrong with our throwaway culture, especially its disregard for the natural resources, carbon emissions and labour that go into making everyday products."
ITV News’ new revelations about the scale of Amazon’s waste come days after Amazon founder Jeff Bezos embarked on a private expedition to space. Labour's Shadow Environment Secretary told ITV News: “Amazon could act today. They should not have to have regulations to do the right thing but it looks like we may need to force doing the right thing on a company that is choosing not to at the moment.
"If Amazon have enough money to put their owner into space they certainly have enough money to sort out this problem.”
In a statement to ITV News, the online retailer said: "Our priority is to resell - donate or recycle any unsold products.
"We recognise that confusion may have stemmed from our use of the word 'destroy'.
"We are in the process of replacing it with terms that more accurately reflect our long-standing business practices.
"Every year, Amazon donates millions of products to charities across the country.
"Amazon supports 23 food banks and charities across the UK, and so far this year we’ve donated 2.9 million food and drink products.
"To suggest we throw away perfectly good food or drink is wrong: if we can donate it, we will donate it.
"As our customers would expect – and in line with UK food safety regulations – we do not donate food that poses a safety risk.
"That includes items past their use-by date, that could have been damaged, or that have been returned and we can no longer guarantee their safety or quality."