The recent state case against an auto superstore is yet another example of how the improper handling of hazardous waste can be costly.
On June 15, 2020, authorities announced that a $1.6 million settlement had been reached in the case against CarMax Auto Superstores California, LLC. The lawsuit, filed by 16 district attorney’s offices across the state, was a result of an undercover investigation that found several stores had illegally handled and disposed of hazardous waste.
Two of the locations - Kearny Mesa and Escondido - were in San Diego County.
Here’s what happened ... and what it can mean for your business.
The Case Against CarMax
The state investigation, conducted by the California Department of Toxic Substances Control and several local environmental regulators, found that CarMax facilities were violating hazardous waste laws over a six-year period between 2014 and 2020.
According to reports, hazardous materials that were improperly disposed of included items that are commonly used during auto body repairs. They included:
- Sanding dust and pads
- Automotive paints
- Clear coats
- Non-empty aerosol containers
Undercover inspections found that employees had illegally disposed of these items in trash containers, along with confidential customer information.
The hefty settlement means CarMax must pay $1 million in civil penalties, as well as $300,000 in investigative costs. Of the $300,000, the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office will get $60,000.
As part of the settlement, CarMax must also pay an additional $300,000 that will go toward funding projects that aim to increase consumer protections and enforcement of environmental laws in the state.
To help ensure regulations are followed, CarMax must also mandate employee training in the handling and disposal of hazardous wastes.
Beyond the financial penalties CarMax must pay, the company was also hit with a blow to its public perception. Improper waste disposal can be a nightmare for a company’s public image, especially if poor hazardous waste management practices lead to a risk to public safety.
Spills, fires, explosions and exposure to toxic chemicals can stem from the mishandling of hazardous waste. A company’s image from one of these events will take far longer to recover from than a financial fine.
What To Take Away
CarMax is just one of several companies that have been hit with substantial fines and penalties as a result of improper waste management.
Earlier this year, the company that bottles Crystal Geyser Natural Alpine Spring Water pled guilty in U.S. District Court to unlawful storage of hazardous waste and unlawful transportation of hazardous material, resulting in a $5 million criminal fine.
Other multimillion-dollar companies have faced similar consequences, most notably Walmart, which agreed to pay more than $81 million after pleading guilty in 2013 to six counts of violating the Clean Water Act.
It’s clear that it doesn’t pay to take shortcuts when it comes to proper waste management.
But, how can you ensure your company is in compliance with federal and state regulations? It is critical for any hazardous waste generator to provide ongoing training opportunities for employees and to work with an experienced hazardous waste disposal company that will guide you through the disposal process.
After all, it is your responsibility as a generator to ensure that waste is disposed of properly, from the moment you generate it to the moment it is disposed of, called cradle to grave.
What A Disposal Company Will Offer
The best certified hazardous waste disposal companies will have experience working with a variety of hazardous waste, but it is important to choose a company that has experience working with the type of waste you generate.
Other services you should look for in a disposal company include:
- The ability to identify waste streams through profiling and testing
- The development of site-specific plans that include training and emergency preparation
- Transportation to recycling and disposal sites
- Preparation of a manifest and other state and federal paperwork
Choosing the right company to work with is important because you will be putting your trust in professionals who have your best interest in mind. When vetting a company for best business practices, make sure you:
- Begin with a thorough background check of the vendor, which includes checking state and federal licenses, ensuring minimum insurance requirements are met and that the company can provide a Dun & Bradstreet report or bank letter of credit.
- Confirm the experience and reputation of a vendor by asking for contact information of clients they have worked with that have similar operations to yours.
- Look for a company that is consultative in nature, such as by offering a hazardous waste walk-through program that focuses on areas like waste storage evaluation, emergency readiness and employee training procedures.
Working with an experienced hazardous waste disposal company allows you to focus on your business while avoiding the costly mistakes the companies above have made.