Greenpeace Germany recently released undercover footage that appears to show employees at a Winsen logistics center in Lower Saxony sorting unsold goods—from T-shirts to electronic equipment—at so-called “destroy stations,” in contravention of a “duty of care” law that was designed to prevent intact and usable goods from being thrown away.
Since the law came into force last year, however, authorities have failed to uphold it, the environmental group said.
“Amazon takes advantage of the fact that so far there is no legal ordinance on duty of care, which is why no penalties are imposed,” Greenpeace Germany said in a statement. But the retail Goliath is reportedly readying itself for a time when waste-disposal companies are only allowed to pick up damaged goods. “Greenpeace has information that in the future, Amazon wants to cut up T-shirts in their original packaging before they are thrown in the garbage can,” it added.
The company disposes of at least one truckload of unsold goods every week at this one location alone, Greenpeace Germany claimed. “Amazon relies solely on quick sales and therefore considers the space on the shelf to be more important than the product in it—a waste of resources that is harmful to the climate,” it said.
Amazon did not respond to a request for comment.
The video, which was captured by a Greenpeace Germany researcher who worked at the facility for several weeks, was broadcast as part of a segment last week by the German news program “Panorama.” Experts interviewed on camera said that it is mainly unsold goods from third-party sellers that are being given the toss. One leather-goods purveyor who operates on Amazon told “Panorama” that sellers are required to turn over their items within a certain period of time or risk high long-term storage fees. The Everything Store offers its disposal service as an alternative.
Amazon told the program that it does not deny the destruction of new goods, but that it only does so when there is no other option. The internet juggernaut also said it had “no process for cutting up fashion items before handing them over to a disposal company.” Nor did it plan to implement such a system. Greenpeace’s footage, it added, captured a test run for a new partner in Winsen using unusable goods. All the materials have since been processed into new products, Amazon said.
But this isn’t the first time Amazon has been accused of profligacy. In 2018, WirtschaftsWoche, a local business weekly, accused the mega e-retailer of destroying “massive amounts” of as-new and returned products in Germany on a daily basis—and not just for reasons of hygiene.
One Amazon warehouse employee said she has personally destroyed reusable goods worth tens of thousands of euros, including kitchen appliances, consumer electronics, mattresses and furniture.
Amazon also did not dispute the allegations at the time, though the company said it was committed to destroying as “few goods as possible” through channels such as resale, charity and liquidation. “When products can’t be sold, resold or donated, we turn to wholesale buyers who can use these products,” it said.