Charities call for ‘Amazon anti-waste law’ after firm denies destroying in-date food


Charities have written to the prime minister calling for a new anti-waste, or “Amazon law”, to be introduced in the UK as the online retailer was forced to deny new allegations that it destroys in-date groceries – as well as household goods such as laptops and TVs.

Footage and photographs of Amazon’s Dunfermline depot in Fife, taken by one of its workers, appear to show boxes of groceries, including crisps, tinned food and soft drinks, being earmarked as waste. They include products with intact packaging that have not exceeded their best-before date, according to the video recordings obtained by ITV News and The Times newspaper.

The US retailer was already facing scrutiny in the wake of a previous report by ITV News which showed large quantities of non-food products, including laptops, TVs and books, being sorted in the same manner in Dunfermline. The secret filming in an area called the “destruction zone” showed computer equipment, power tools and even sealed face masks being placed into boxes labelled “destroy”.

It was filmed in the returns department, where the unused items had been sent back to. “I reckon 70% of what we put into bins is sealed and in its packaging,” the worker said. “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 investigation also points to the sheer scale of Amazon’s product waste in the UK, as employees from eight different warehouses told the broadcaster that they destroy new and unsold products as part of their jobs.

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One woman, who until recently worked on a temporary contract at Amazon’s Darlington site while she was training to be a teaching assistant, said she was close to tears disposing of books that were new or as-good-as.

“I thought it was disgusting seeing what goes in a bin,” she said. “I could pick those books up and take them to the school where I’m helping. 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.”

There were also reports gathered from other depots including Bolton where a former employee said tablets, phones and battery packs were destroyed regularly.

In response, Amazon said to “suggest we throw away perfectly good food or drink is wrong”.

“If we can donate it, we donate it,” said a spokesperson. “As our customers would expect, 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.”

The company added that it had supported 23 food banks and charities in the UK and so far this year had donated 2.9m food and drink products.

Amazon also said that it did not send any items to landfill in the UK. “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.”

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In an interview with ITV News, the environment secretary, George Eustice, called Amazon’s waste “extraordinary.” He said the government was in talks with Amazon and considering whether there needs to be a change in the law.

“Certainly what was happening in the case of Amazon does seem quite extraordinary and we need to stop waste of this sort,” said Eustice.

“There are other changes we are looking at that aim to strengthen the regime we have for electronic goods and recycling as well.”

Greenpeace, which has dubbed the proposed legislation an “Amazon law” said this “colossal wastefulness may work well for Jeff Bezos who rakes in the billions, but it leaves our planet poorer”.

The letter, signed by representatives of six of the UK’s biggest environmental charities including Greenpeace, the Environmental Investigation Agency, Friends of the Earth England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and Surfers Against Sewage, calls on the government to introduce rules on what companies can and cannot do with unsold or returned products.

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The letter urges the government to follow countries such as France where an anti-waste law means companies must donate unsold non-food goods to charity unless they pose a health or safety risk.

“Placing an obligation on companies like Amazon to donate or reuse unsold products will not only reduce waste and spread the societal benefits of these goods at one end of the supply chain,” says the letter. “It will also force companies to look again at any business model predicated on manufacturing mountains of products which are destined to become waste before they are even used once.”

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