Amazon's Waste Scandal
Global corporation, Amazon, is involved in a waste scandal that has been labelled by the media as both immoral in our society and dreadful for the environment. The world’s biggest online retailer has been found guilty of sending goods to landfill or to be destroyed, despite it being in perfect condition.
Read on to find out how this every-day practice at Amazon reached national news and turned into a scandal, what Amazon’s argument for doing this is, and the environmental repercussions.
The British television channel, ITV, has investigated Amazon’s waste practices and revealed that millions of unused and new products are discarded as trash. ITV found a document where more than 130,000 items were marked with the label “destroy”. This was all in one week, in one UK warehouse in April. In this document, there were another 28,000 products that were supposed to be donated to charity, as if this was enough to make up for the thousands of destroyed items.
Why destroy perfectly good quality products?
Even if the products are in perfect condition, it’s often cheaper for Amazon to dump them than to store them. Half of the items that are discarded by Amazon are new and still in their boxes, while the other half are returned items that are in perfect condition.
This contrasts heavily with their recent zero waste and ‘sustainability’ campaigns, as well as their pledges to donate products to charities around the world. Amazon has committed to becoming net-zero carbon by 2040 and powering their operations with renewable energy sources by 2025. However, Amazon is not the only corporation guilty of sending brand new products straight to landfill. Fashion companies are also known for these practices, and most corporations that supply customers with products tend to follow this trend. This is because companies tend to overproduce in order to fulfil rising consumer demand. As things go out of style, consumers lose interest or demand isn’t as high as predicted, the shelves of these companies are stocked with products that will either get burned or dumped.
Why is this a problem?
The repercussions of this overproduction are terrifying on both a social and environmental level. Let’s take tech products for example, which use many rare metals that need to be mined. Overproduction means there is a higher demand for these metals, which are often mined by companies using child labour or an exploited workforce. In addition, the demand for tech products is the perfect excuse for corporations to invade the ecosystem and destroy it, endangering biodiversity and the people who depend on these areas. Nevertheless, Amazon’s 2020 sustainability report showed their carbon footprint grew from 6.7 million metric tons to 51.17 million metric tons. This is equal to 22 million barrels of oil. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the demand for online shopping grew, leading to a 19% increase in Amazon’s carbon footprint, which now stands at 60.64 million metric tons. Shockingly, this report does not measure or mention plastic, so these numbers are from operations and other products alone.
Another report, from the ocean advocacy organisation, Oceana, found that Amazon was responsible for 465 million pounds of plastic waste in 2019. These accusations were debunked by Amazon, who claimed that they used a quarter of that figure, which would still mean they used over 116 million pounds. An Amazon spokesperson said this amount is enough to circle the Earth over a hundred times in the form of air pillows. Although, we do not know Amazon’s real plastic footprint (as they refuse to reveal this information), as we saw online sales increase during the pandemic by 38%, we can only imagine that the waste levels have also risen. In addition, Amazon does not pay its part in taxes, which strains the already overwhelmed waste systems.
Amazon claims that their packaging is recyclable and sustainable, making their customers responsible for disposing and recycling it. It’s not as easy as they make it out to be though. To recycle the plastic film from the mailers, bubble wraps and air pillows, the Amazon customer must take various steps. These items need to be disposed of at a special facility, meaning the customer must research their local recycling facility and make their own way there, often driving and using fossil fuels which are a major contributor to climate change.
So yes, Amazon’s packaging is recyclable, but most of it isn’t recycled. Finding ways to recycle it is time consuming and waste facilities are often over-saturated, meaning the percentage of properly recycled items is low. This leaves the easy way out, throwing everything into landfill or the incinerator. These practices serve to exacerbate the growing issues around plastic production. If plastic were a country, it would be the fifth largest greenhouse emitter in the world. At every stage of their production, transportation and eventually supposed disposal, plastic products release greenhouse gases. Then, when the plastics that are not recycled inevitably reach the ocean, they kill entire ecosystems and marine life underwater. Animals cannot digest plastic and often die when they ingest it, and when we humans then eat seafood, we end up absorbing the microplastics that our dinner had eaten. A study by WWF shows that humans on average are consuming a credit card worth of microplastics, which is about 5 grams, every week
What can you do?
Buy local. We don’t just mean the farmer’s market, although you can benefit from buying fresher items with less packaging, we also mean using local services and shops.When you buy local, you help reduce the use of fossil fuel, you help the local economy and you can end up saving money since items you are buying are locally sourced.
Recycle as much packaging as you can, and use the above link to see how your waste should be separated. Also use the ‘Local Recycling’ page, to find out how your local authority recycles and how you can play your part.
Get packages in bulk with Amazon’s option of one box with all products. When you group purchases, you help lower the amount of material used to pack and send your orders, and reduce fossil fuel used by having one delivery instead of one per item.
Reflect if you really need what you are buying. Many times we buy new things while other stuff just sits in our house unused. Give away things you are not using and try and buy second hand wherever possible so as to not create more waste..
The Amazon Waste Scandal has given us an interesting insight into the behind the scenes of how some large corporations handle their business and protect their profits. It also shows the sad reality of how some of our go-to company’s real values may not align with our wishes of a greener society, which can sometimes pose a dilemma for us. All we can do is try our best not to contribute to creating more waste and help reduce the use of chemicals that are harmful to our environment, such as fossil fuels.
For more information on this topic, head over to our dedicated section on the Climate Crisis.
Edited by Caoimhe Glover and Amy Watts