A popular clothing retailer is the latest company to be accused of improper hazardous waste disposal … and the latest to pay a steep fine.
The San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office and several other California DAs settled a civil lawsuit this month against TJX Companies Inc. for improperly disposing of hazardous waste in regular trash bins that were then sent to municipal landfills. TJX Companies must now pay $2.05 million to resolve these allegations, according to the DA's Office.
The case is another example of how taking short-cuts in your waste disposal methods can be costly. While a major corporation can likely survive a $2 million fine, the allegations of improper waste disposal can impact that business in other ways.
A recent survey of U.S. consumers found that 75% are concerned about the environmental impact of the products that they buy. Nearly 60% said they are more likely to buy stock in a company that is perceived as sustainable versus one that is not.
If your business is landing itself in the headlines for environmentally-unfriendly practices, a fine might be the least of your concerns. Your reputation with consumers and how that impacts your bottom line may be the greater concern.
And if you’re a small- to medium-sized company, the combination of a hefty fine and bad publicity may be too much for your business to weather.
The Case Against TJX Companies
The multi-county lawsuit alleged that TJX, which owns approximately 340 T.J. Maxx, Marshalls and HomeGoods stores in California, illegally disposed of hazardous waste. Waste that was discovered to have been thrown into regular trash bins included aerosol cans, batteries, electronic devices and cleaning agents, in addition to other items considered hazardous.
This isn’t the first time TJX has found itself in trouble with the law, however. In 2014, the company paid more than $2.7 million in civil penalties, costs and supplemental environmental project funding for mismanaged hazardous waste.
The current penalty of $2.05 million includes $1.8 million in civil penalties, $300,000 in supplemental environmental projects and $250,000 in reimbursement fees for investigative and enforcement costs. Under the settlement, the company must also hire at least one California compliance employee who will now oversee its hazardous waste compliance program. This employee will also conduct waste audits at some of the company’s California facilities to ensure compliance.
How To Comply With Hazardous Waste Regulations
Businesses are required to dispose of any hazardous waste generated at their facilities in a legal manner. In the TJX Companies case, employees allegedly mixed regular commercial waste with hazardous waste. If hazardous waste ends up in landfills, toxins can seep into the nearby soil or air, or mix with other chemicals, causing a dangerous reaction.
Complying with hazardous waste regulations is critical to not putting your business, community and the environment at risk. One of the most effective ways you can ensure your company is in compliance is by working with an experienced hazardous waste disposal company.
It is your responsibility as a generator to ensure that your waste is disposed of properly, from the moment you generate it to the moment it is disposed of. This is called cradle to grave.
The best disposal companies will work with you to establish a waste management plan that covers all areas of your operations … from the moment the waste is generated to its final disposal.
To achieve this, a hazardous waste disposal company should:
Be able to identify waste streams through profiling and testing
Will develop site-specific plans that include training and emergency preparation
Transport your waste to the proper recycling and disposal sites
Prepare a manifest and other state and federal paperwork
Offer evidence that your waste has been properly disposed of
The best disposal companies will also offer a hazardous waste walk-through program that evaluates your hazardous waste procedures. This allows for potential issues to be caught BEFORE they become costly mistakes.
This process is collaborative and ensures that your company and employees are protected and in legal compliance with areas like waste manifesting, waste storage, emergency readiness, proper labeling procedures, employee training and more.
How To Locate A Hazardous Waste Disposal Company
Finding the right hazardous waste disposal company for your business, it’s critical to consider those experienced in your industry or type of waste that you generate. In the TJX Companies case, the facilities generated several types of waste, from electronic waste to chemicals.
A disposal company should always be able to pass all background checks as well. This includes checking state and federal licenses (Motor Carrier Permit, DOT Hazardous Material License, DTSC Transporter Registration, Registered Waste Hauler License, EPA License and Certified E-Waste Collector License), ensuring minimum insurance requirements are met and requesting a Dun & Bradstreet number.
Especially among businesses like yours, a disposal company should have a great reputation. Ask for the contact information of clients a disposal company has worked with so that you can hear about their experiences and any services that helped them with their waste management plans.
Finally, as we mentioned above, the best disposal companies should be consultative in nature. It’s important to think of a disposal company as your partner rather than simply another business providing you with a service. A hazardous waste walk-through program is a good example of being consultative in nature because it shows the company cares about the success of your business rather than only disposing of your waste.