Some Amazon Sellers Turn Trash Into Cash

In the newest “buyer beware” story of the holiday season, a new report shows that some Amazon sellers have been offering items sourced from the trash as new items for sale on the platform. An investigation by The Wall Street Journal’s Khadeeja Safdar, Shane Shifflett, and Denise Blostein found sellers who admitted to dumpster diving to salvage items that could be sold on Amazon for profit. The journalists then created a successful experiment setting up its own Amazon store to offer items they found in the trash.

One of the Amazon sellers in the report claimed he resold items from store clearance sections, abandoned storage units, and dumpsters packaged in cardboard boxes, bubble wrap, and peanuts salvaged from trash bins. Another said he sold products like humidifiers and keyboards from dumpsters for over a year through Amazon Prime. As the investigation was ongoing, nothing in Amazon’s rules prevented “salvaged” items from being resold. The company has previously said in court cases it isn’t liable for what third-party merchants sell since Amazon itself isn’t the one selling the products listed.

To test Amazon’s screening process, the journalists applied to open an Amazon store by submitting a reporter’s driver’s license and bank statement. An email arrived two days later for a $39.99-a-month account with the heading: “Welcome to Fulfillment by Amazon.” The reporters then went dumpster diving behind stores like Michaels and Trader Joe’s to find new or unopened items they could resell on Amazon. They were able to sell several of the items they found.

After being contacted about the story, Amazon updated its seller policies to include a prohibition on items “intended for destruction or disposal or otherwise designated as unsellable by the manufacturer or a supplier, vendor, or retailer.” The company says it has also “expanded the scope of our existing supply-chain verification efforts including increased spot checks of source documentation to ensure seller compliance with our policies.”