Amazon is destroying millions of unsold goods a year

A current undercover investigation in an Amazon warehouse in Dunfermline, Scotland, reported the disposal of greater than 130,000 “new or evenly used” objects in a single week in simply that one location. Public outrage was clear. Questions had been requested about how Amazon may very well be so wasteful and why weren’t the usable objects despatched to these in want?

Amazon responded to the ITV investigation by saying it is “working in the direction of a objective of zero product disposal,” and that “no gadgets are despatched to landfill within the UK.” UK enterprise secretary Kwasi Kwarteng responded to the warehouse story with “shock” implying that this waste was surprising (each Amazon and the Scottish government have round economic system methods designed to restrict waste to landfill). The Amazon whistleblower behind the story claimed “there’s no rhyme or purpose to what will get destroyed” suggesting this “shock” waste was the consequence of a disorganized system.

However waste doesn’t simply occur. Trash is the outcome of socio-cultural acts of classification wherein objects are thought-about worthless inside a explicit context. Organizations classify objects inside monetary accounts. From an accounting perspective, the waste within the Amazon warehouse was neither disorganized nor surprising however reasonably was a predictable consequence of accounting designed for a linear economic system.


Most objects in monetary accounts are categorised as inventory, a sort of asset. Shares depreciate in worth over time, till finally – when value of storage outweighs potential return – that unsold inventory turns into a legal responsibility. Organizations can select easy methods to dispose of their liabilities however, in balance-book phrases, the inventory has develop into waste: nugatory objects to be discarded (within the least expensive attainable means).

Society is producing more waste every year and but, for many of us, that waste stays out of sight. Most rich international locations have designed waste administration techniques that take away perceived nugatory objects from our economic system shortly and cheaply.

The effectivity of these hidden waste administration techniques is mirrored in monetary accounts. Conventional waste infrastructure (landfill and supplies restoration amenities) is accessible and dependable sufficient to nonetheless be the most cost effective disposal choice for a lot of organizations, regardless of landfill taxes designed to encourage different paths for undesirable objects.

What makes the Amazon case significantly alarming is the volumes of waste concerned (a number of million tonnes a year by some estimates). Importantly most of this waste is not from Amazon’s personal retail enterprise, however reasonably the undesirable inventory from some of the 1000’s of smaller organisations that use Amazon as a retail platform and distributor. The waste generated by monetary accounting is a systemic drawback.

The low value of landfill disposal is one other instance of the now well-recognized failure of monetary accounts to seize adverse environmental penalties. Nonetheless, within the case of waste disposal, it is not essentially that options to landfill or recycling value extra. Quite, the related prices (such because the markets for reuse) are unknown and so troublesome to incorporate inside monetary accounts.

Accounting in a round economic system

We must always encourage a transition from a linear to extra circular economy, wherein assets are reused and the necessity for landfill largely eradicated. To do that, we should start to know the monetary prices related to recycling and reuse, how objects retain some worth past a person organisational context and the way this worth could be reported inside accounts. We have to envisage a system of accounting for circularity.

Accounting for circularity will inevitably require organizations to supply social and environmental stories along with monetary accounts, and a recognition that organizations can not develop into round on their very own. Accounting in a circular economy requires collaborative accounts between organizations that transcend conventional boundaries and prolong throughout provide chains to think about worth in manufacturing and consumption techniques.


Via these accounts we will start to make waste seen, determine ecological limits to consumption and problem these organizations and organizational practices that take a look at these limits. Within the case of Amazon, this may contain each the platform (Amazon) and its sellers collaborating on publicly out there accounts that seize the fabric worth of extra inventory.

Efforts to account for the fabric circulation inside our manufacturing and consumption system are being pursued and Scotland, the place I work and the Amazon warehouse is situated, is main the best way. This week Zero Waste Scotland publicised its report which discovered that the full weight of assets utilized in 2017 by particular person Scots (18.4 metric tonnes) was greater than double predicted sustainable ranges (8 tonnes). Work is nonetheless required to know the contribution of organizational practices to this nationwide materials circulation.