Every year, Walmart illegally dumps more than 1 million batteries, aerosol cans of insecticides and other products, toxic cleaning supplies, electronic waste, latex paints, and other hazardous waste into California landfills, according to a lawsuit filed by state prosecutors on Monday, which the company called “unjustified.”
“As we shop the brightly packed aisles, there are products that will never make it into the cart — returned, damaged, or pulled from the shelves for a variety of reasons,” California Attorney General Rob Bonta explained.
“When a big-box store, like the rest of us, disposes of unwanted goods, they must do so properly. Unfortunately, Walmart, the world’s largest company by revenue, has failed to do so on a large scale in California,” he continued. In 2010, the attorney general’s office settled a similar lawsuit in which Walmart, which operates more than 300 stores in California, paid $25 million and agreed to stop dumping hazardous products into local landfills that are not equipped to contain the hazardous products.
In 2012, it paid $1.25 million to Missouri to settle a similar lawsuit.
In 2013, the company pleaded guilty to six federal misdemeanors of negligently discharging a pollutant into drains in 16 California counties as part of a $81 million settlement that included Missouri charges.
Walmart will fight the “unjustified lawsuit” filed on Monday, according to company spokesman Randy Hargrove.
“The state is demanding a level of compliance from our stores regarding waste disposal of common household products and other items that exceeds what is required by law,” Hargrove said. He said a judge was ready to sign off in 2018 on Walmart’s compliance under the 2010 settlement until the attorney general’s office started a new investigation with “new rules” in a bid to force a new settlement.
More than 3,800 audits conducted by the attorney general’s office since 2010 discovered that Walmart’s trash compactors “contain at most 0.4 percent of items of potential concern,” compared to a statewide average of 3 percent, according to Hargrove. “Our compactors are far cleaner than the state average,” Hargrove added.
According to Bonta, Walmart illegally disposes of nearly 80 tons of such waste each year, which his office estimates amounts to more than 1 million individual items.
“Pesticides, electronics, and household hazardous waste must be properly disposed of, or they can be released into our air, water, and soil, resulting in a variety of negative health outcomes — including cancer, neurological disorders, asthma, or learning disabilities,” said Meredith Williams, Director of the California Department of Toxic Substances Control, at a news conference announcing the lawsuit.
From 2015 to this year, the state inspected 58 trash compactors taken from Walmart stores in 13 counties. According to Bonta, they discovered dozens of products that qualify as hazardous waste, medical waste, or customer records containing personal information in each case.
Williams’ agency and the district attorneys of Alameda, Fresno, Monterey, Orange, Riverside, Sacramento, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Joaquin, Solano, Tulare, and Yolo counties joined the attorney general’s office in filing the lawsuit.
In contrast to Walmart, other large retailers, according to Bonta, have disposal practices that comply with state laws “to varying degrees, some with great compliance.”
“This isn’t rocket science,” he explained. “You can’t possibly be dumping these hazardous waste products into the general sanitation system. It’s hazardous and unhealthy.”
Williams went on to say that “other companies manage to comply with those laws,” whereas Walmart has even more means and incentive based on previous violations. “So it’s really quite astounding that they continue to violate these hazardous waste control laws,” she said.