Walmart Has Allegedly Been Dumping Hazardous Waste and Confidential Customer Information
California officials have filed a lawsuit against Walmart for its disposal practices, estimating that more than 1 million items of hazardous waste are being sent to landfills annually.
On Monday, the California attorney general and a dozen district attorneys filed a lawsuit against Walmart for its practice of dumping illegal amounts of hazardous waste, medical waste items and customer records containing personal information. The complaint encompasses Walmart’s actions throughout California from 2015 to the present day.
"Instead of working to fully curb illegal disposals of hazardous waste or medical waste items and rendering customer records containing personal information undecipherable prior to being discarded, Walmart publicly asserts that its corporate sustainability achievements and its past criminal and civil penalty payments fulfill its compliance responsibilities," the California government wrote in the lawsuit.
The government conducted its audit of Walmart's waste disposal by taking a sample size of eight stores. In 2017, it found up to 37 hazardous waste items per ton of trash. That adds up, considering that Walmart owns and operates more than 300 retail stores and distribution centers in California. From the audits, the lawsuit estimates that more than 1 million items of hazardous waste are being sent to California’s municipal landfills annually.
The lawsuit explains that the hazardous waste is sourced from various places throughout Walmart's retail store operations, "including from its pharmacy, auto care center, claims department, battery and used cell phone collection boxes, customer-facing trash bins, new store or store remodeling construction debris and from accidental breakage or spillage of products."
In an emailed statement to NPR, Walmart spokesperson Randy Hargrove called the complaint an "unjustified lawsuit."
"We have met with the state numerous times and walked them through our industry-leading hazardous waste compliance programs in an effort to avoid litigation. Instead, they filed this unjustified lawsuit," Hargrove wrote. "The state is demanding a level of compliance regarding waste disposal from our stores of common household products and other items that goes beyond what is required by law."
This isn't the first time Walmart has gotten in trouble for its waste disposal practices. In 2010, the California attorney general's office settled a similar lawsuit with Walmart where the company had to pay around $25 million. Walmart also was under an injunction between May 3, 2010 and January 26, 2018 that prohibited the unlawful management and disposal of hazardous waste and materials.
However, a 2015 inspection found that Walmart continued to dump waste illegally.