California is suing Walmart over alleged improper disposal of e-waste and other hazardous materials

Last week, the California attorney general and 12 state officials filed a lawsuit against Walmart, saying it allegedly illegally disposed of electronic and hazardous waste, compromising local landfills.

California Attorney General Rob Bonta alleges in a statement the company violated state environmental laws with their practices, and the waste included materials like lithium and alkaline batteries, insect killer sprays, aerosol cans, LED lightbulbs, and more.

State investigators conducted 58 inspections across 13 counties from 2015 to 2021 and said they found classified hazardous and medical waste in each store’s trash compactors, as well as customer information that should have been rendered indecipherable. The California DOJ estimates that Walmart’s unlawfully disposed waste totals 159,600 pounds or more than 1 million items each year.

“We have met with the state numerous times to walk them through our industry-leading hazardous waste compliance programs in an effort to avoid litigation, but instead, they filed this unjustified lawsuit,” Walmart spokesperson Randy Hargrove said in a statement. “The state is demanding a level of compliance regarding waste disposal from our stores of common house-hold products and other items that goes beyond what is required by law. We intend to defend this company.”

Hargrove said that the compactor waste audits “conducted or overseen by the California attorney general have shown that the compactor waste contain at most 0.4% of items of potential concern,” comparing it to the 3 percent statewide average.

This is not the first time Walmart has tangled with the state over its alleged waste practices. In 2010, Walmart reached a $25 million settlement with the California attorney general’s office for illegally disposing of hazardous waste.

Hargrove says the court was “prepared to relieve Walmart of its obligations” from its 2010 settlement, but “the attorney general’s office launched a new investigation with new rules in hope that Walmart would enter another settlement requiring another substantial financial payment.”

The company also paid $1.25 million to Missouri in 2012 for a similar incident and pleaded guilty in 2013 for negligently discharging a pollutant into drains in 16 counties in California, the Associated Press reported.

“Despite repeated enforcements against Walmart over the past two decades, it consistently – and knowingly – fails to comply with California’s environmental protection laws,” director Meredith Williams of the Department of Toxic Substances Control in California said in the press release.

Correction December 27th, 4:25PM ET: An earlier version of this story stated that Walmart had to pay a fine of $125 million in 2012. They only had to pay $1.25 million. We regret the error.

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