Amazon Is Destroying Thousands of Unsold AirPods, iPads, and MacBooks According to New Investigation

Amazon Boxes Coming Down Conveyer Belt Credit: Frederic Legrand - COMEO / Shutterstock
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In a revelation that’s enough to make any Apple fan cry, an undercover media investigation in the UK has discovered that Amazon has been regularly destroying thousands of unsold AirPods, iPads, and MacBooks, rather than donating or even simply recycling them.

The investigation, which was carried out by the UK’s ITV News showed how millions of unsold stock items are destroyed by the retailer each year, including brand new and unopened Apple products.

ITV News gathered actual undercover footage from Amazon’s Dunfermline warehouse, showing “waste on an astonishing level,” with thousands of products being sorted into boxes marked for destruction.

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.

ITV News

The warehouse in question is only one of 24 Amazon fulfillment centres across the UK, however, the problem isn’t unique to that one location. ITV found the same story was repeated by Amazon employees it spoke with across almost all the company’s locations.

Staff has just become numb to what they are being asked to do.

Ex-Amazon employee

A leaked document from the Dunfermline warehouse showed that in only a single week in April, 124,000 items were flagged for destruction. According to Amazon staff, over half of all the items being destroyed are “unopened and still in their shrink wrap,” while the remainder are returns that are still in perfectly good condition.

One ex-employee also said that over the course of a normal seven-day period, staff was given a target of around 130,000 items per week to be destroyed.

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.

Ex-Amazon employee

The twisted logic behind this senseless waste, it seems, comes down to Amazon’s “hugely successful business model.”

As ITV News correspondent Richard Pallot explains, Amazon stores millions of products in its vast array of warehouses, and unsold products take up costly storage space, and it eventually reaches a point where it’s cheaper to dispose of the goods than to continue paying money to store them.

To be fair, Amazon does appear to donate and recycle at least some unsold products, but it appears that the number of products that are destroyed outright is disproportionately higher, particularly when considering that so many of them are brand new products that are still in their original packaging.

For example, during the seven-day period in April where 124,000 items were marked for destruction, only 28,000 items were set aside for donation. Some products in the “destroy” pile are also sent to recycling centres, but some apparently end up in landfill sites — despite claims to the contrary by Amazon.

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.

Statement given by Amazon to ITV News

It’s also important to note that “energy recovery” is a somewhat vague euphemism that can mean anything from Apple’s famous recycling robots to collecting energy from incinerating products as fuel.

Canada’s CBC Marketplace did a similar investigation last fall, by planting trackers in products returned to Amazon, only to discover a surprising number of items ending in landfill sites. However, the UK ITV News investigation is even more damning evidence of environmentally irresponsible practices on behalf of the company, since it shows how many brand new products are being systematically destroyed when they could have been put to better use.

It’s also hard to give Apple a pass on this one either, since as far as AirPods, iPads, and MacBooks are concerned, the company should offer more incentives for big-box suppliers like Amazon to return them to Apple’s own supply chain, where they could be sold through other channels, or at least recycled using Apple’s considerably more environmentally responsible procedures.

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