It doesn't matter who you are or how big your company is. If you're illegally dumping hazardous waste, your deeds will catch up with you.
Case in point: The state of California is suing the Arkansas-based international mega-store Walmart for the illegal disposal of hazardous waste.
The DA alleges that the company improperly disposed of around 1 million batteries, pesticide cans, toxic cleaning supplies, latex paint, lightbulbs, electronics and other environmentally-harmful hazardous waste each year for the past six years. The suit alleges that the company sent these items directly to landfills not equipped to handle this type of waste.
California’s attorney general says not only did Walmart violate hazardous waste laws, the company also placed the public at risk since these products could seep into drinking water or into the air as dangerous gases.
If your company generates hazardous waste, it must be properly managed and disposed of under federal, state and local guidelines. Not doing so could land your company in the headlines, pummeled by bad public relations like Walmart is facing.
The Case Against Walmart
Every year, untold numbers of unsellable products get pulled from shelves for various reasons. … customer returns, expired goods, unwanted products, in-store damaged goods and recalls, just to name a few.
This sad casualty of consumerism has to go somewhere. But unlike expired produce, these products often contain harmful chemicals that can poison the air and waterways near landfills.
Walmart's own paper trail shows that approximately 1 million items are sent to landfills annually. Despite repeated attempts over two decades to correct this issue, the filing states that Walmart continues these large-scale hazardous waste dumps rather than disposing of the unwanted goods legally.
In fact, in 2013, Walmart agreed to pay $81.63 million for dumping hazardous waste. The plea agreements came after Walmart pleaded guilty to six counts of violating the Clean Water Act. The company also pleaded guilty in Missouri to improper disposal of pesticides returned by customers.
In this case, Walmart was similarly charged for dumping toxic items pulled from store shelves rather than disposing of them properly.
As a result of these prior settlements, Walmart begin adding labels that allowed employees to better identify hazardous waste. According to the current lawsuit, issues still remain, however.
Walmart Is Not Alone
Walmart is far from the only company being investigated and held accountable for its hazardous waste disposal practices. In 2021, Ulta Beauty paid $752,000 in civil penalties plus legal fees regarding its improper storage, handling and disposal of the hazardous waste its company produced.
Carmax, Crystal Geyser and Clean Harbors are three more companies that recently found themselves making some very expensive mistakes with hazardous waste disposal.
They are all good examples of what can happen when improper waste management on your property can lead to other issues, such as illegal disposal, employee injuries, dangerous incidents, harmful pollution and staggering fines.
Hazardous Waste Is Serious Business
As businesses, we have an ethical responsibility to do what's right when it comes to waste disposal for the environment, customers and future generations. Not doing the right thing can and does have serious financial ramifications, in addition to loss of trust among your customers.
Quite often, companies don't realize how much hazardous waste they're producing. They see big manufacturing or energy producers and think "they're the polluters.” However, if you have items like batteries, bulbs, pesticides, paint, dyes, cleaners and the like sitting on your shelves, you have hazardous waste and need to evaluate how much.
Yet it is your responsibility as a generator of any hazardous waste to ensure it is properly disposed of, from the moment it is generated to the moment it is disposed of. This is called cradle to grave.
The best hazardous waste disposal companies will:
- Identify waste streams through profiling and testing
- 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 offer a hazardous waste walk-through program that evaluates your hazardous waste procedures. This allows you to catch potential issues before they become costly mistakes.
By identifying the hazardous waste you're producing and coming up with a practical and reliable plan, you can rest assured that your toxic waste removal is far less costly than some of the costly fines above.