Amazon introducing new policy to cut waste after ITV News investigation

ITV News Business and Economics Editor Joel Hills reports

Amazon has announced new policy changes in an attempt to cut its waste after an ITV News investigation discovered the world’s largest online retailer was destroying millions of items of unsold stock that is often new and unused.

From laptops and smart TVs to hairdryers and books, undercover filming revealed the true extent of the waste at one of Amazon’s fulfilment centres in Dunfermline.

Some of the products were unopened and still in their original packaging, and the rest were in good condition.

ITV News found the products were loaded onto lorries and dumped at either recycling centres or a waste disposal centre which has a landfill site. 

Amazon has told ITV News that the landfill site also has a recycling centre and that none of their items go to landfill in the UK. 

'I think its important that people know it is a real person, a real face, that came forward and that wanted to see change' - The ex-Amazon employee behind ITV News' exposé

In June, ITV News' investigation began with one ex-employee sharing his story.

Having initially spoken to our team anonymously - now he wants his identity to be known.

At the time Raymond Joseph told ITV News staff at the retailer had “become numb to what they are being asked to do” – with the target to destroy 130,000 items a week.

A leaked document from inside the Dunfermline warehouse showed more than 124,000 items marked 'destroy'.

As Amazon announced it's new policy changed two months later, Mr Joseph described the move as "a step".

"It's not the change, it's not the headline change but any small step is a good step".

But the former employee said he disagreed with Amazon's statement that it was committed to sustainability.

"It's a matter that they got caught," he said.

Following the investigation in June, Amazon has now announced two new “Fulfilment by Amazon (FBA) programmes” to make it easier for businesses selling on Amazon to resell customer-returned items or overstocked inventory.

The online retail giant said on it's blog the new programme would ensure products “don’t become waste” and to reduce Amazon's “impact on our planet”.

Watch footage showing the 'destruction zone' in Amazon's Dunfermline warehouse where millions of unsold items are destroyed every year

The “FBA Grade and Resell” programme allows sellers to resell returned items as “used” – it is now available in the UK, and will be available in the US by the end of the year and in Germany, France, Italy and Spain by early 2022.

“When an item is returned, sellers can choose to automatically route it to this new programme. Amazon will then evaluate the item and assign it one of four standard conditions: Used - Like New, Used - Very Good, Used - Good, and Used – Acceptable,” the blog states.

“Sellers then set the price for items based on the condition and manage pricing, advertising, and sales using their existing processes, just as they do for their new items.”

In one week in April, a leaked document from inside the Dunfermline warehouse had more than 124,000 items marked out for destroy. Credit: ITV News

The second programme – “FBA Liquidations” – allows sellers to recover part of their inventory cost from their returned or overstock inventory by reselling the items through Amazon’s bulk resale partners.

Previously sellers would need to have returned or overstock inventory sent back to them or allow Amazon to take control of the product through its FBA Donations programme. The programme is set to go live in the UK in August, and is currently available in the US, Germany, France, Italy and Spain.

The FBA Donations programme was previously the only FBA scheme. It was launched in 2019 and is an automatic way for sellers to donate their overstock or returned items.

The scheme is controlled by Amazon – the process is “hands off” for sellers – so the online giant can use its “supply chain and operational expertise so the right items get to the right charity partners.”

However ITV News’ investigation found that in a week where 124,000 items were marked as ‘destroy’ – just 28,000 items were labelled 'donate'.

What does the announcement tell us? Joel Hills explains

The findings uncovered by ITV News' investigation drew wide-scale condemnation, from the prime minister who said he was “shocked and amazed” by our reports to environmental activist Greta Thunberg who said the report was “a clear sign that something is fundamentally wrong.”

In a statement, Amazon told ITV News: "We do not send a single item to landfill in the UK. Every year we donate millions of products to charities across the country. We’ve got more work to do but our goal is to get to zero product disposal."

“Customer returns are a fact of life for all retailers, and what to do with those products is an industry-wide challenge,” said Libby Johnson McKee, director, Amazon WW Returns, ReCommerce and Sustainability.

ITV News cameras film pallets piled with unwanted goods being unloaded at a waste recycling site near to Amazon's Dunfermline warehouse. Credit: ITV News

“These new programmes are examples of the steps we’re taking to ensure that products sold on Amazon—whether by us or our small business partners—go to good use and don’t become waste.

“Along with existing programmes like FBA Donations, we hope these help build a circular economy and reduce our impact on the planet.

“And we’re excited that these programmes will also help the businesses selling on Amazon reduce costs and grow their businesses—it’s a win for our partners, customers, and communities.”