The types of items being destroyed here go way beyond the “health and personal care” products that Amazon has long been destroying when people return them, for sanitary reasons. We’re talking things like washing machines, smartphones and furniture.
The revelation drew an angry response from the German government and environmental campaigners.
“This is a huge scandal,” Jochen Flasbarth from the German environment ministry told WirtschaftsWoche. “We are consuming these resources despite all the problems in the world. This approach is not in step with our times.” Greenpeace’s Kirsten Brodde said there was a need for a new “law on banning the waste and destruction of first-hand and usable goods.”
How much of a scandal is this, though?
Amazon Germany said in a statement that it is “committed to minimizing product waste” and has multiple programs in place to achieve this. Some returned items are resold through Amazon Warehouse, some are recycled, and some are donated to charity—through platforms such as Innatura and through food banks.
“Where products cannot be sold, resold or donated, we work with wholesale liquidators who buy these goods and re-sell them through other channels,” Amazon Germany said.
As the Germany e-commerce news website Wortfilter explained in a lengthy counter-argument to the weekend’s reports, manufacturers and vendors sometimes also ask Amazon to destroy goods on their behalf, for example because they have a common flaw and destruction is cheaper for them than taking back loads of faulty stock.
Ultimately, the question here is one of proportion. The WirtschaftsWoche report claims that some items were destroyed after being in Amazon’s warehouse for a mere day, and cites Amazon employees as saying they have “destroyed goods worth tens of thousands of euros on a daily basis.”
When Fortune asked Amazon Germany for information about how much inventory it destroys, and what destruction entails—how much material is recycled—the company did not provide an answer.