California accuses Walmart of illegally disposing of hazardous waste in landfills

The waste includes alkaline and lithium batteries, aerosol cans, latex paints and LED lightbulbs

California Attorney General Robert Bonta has filed a new lawsuit against Walmart, accusing the retailer of violating the state's environment laws and regulations over the past six years by disposing of hazardous waste products at local landfills that are not equipped or authorized to receive it. 

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The suit estimates that Walmart unlawfully disposes of more than one million items, or approximately 159,600 pounds of hazardous waste in the state annually. The waste includes alkaline and lithium batteries, insect killer sprays and other pesticides, aerosol cans, toxic cleaning supplies, electronic waste, latex paints, LED lightbulbs and confidential customer information. 

"When one person throws out a battery or half-empty hairspray bottle, we may think that it's no big deal. But when we’re talking about tens of thousands of batteries, cleaning supplies, and other hazardous waste, the impact to our environment and our communities can be huge," Bonta said in a statement. "This lawsuit should serve as a warning to the state's worst offenders. We will hold you accountable." 

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Walmart said the state has filed an "unjustified lawsuit" despite meeting with the company numerous times and being walked through its hazardous waste compliance programs to avoid litigation. 

"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 the company," a spokesperson told FOX Business. "Walmart is a responsible corporate citizen in California and everywhere we operate. We take our obligation to protect the environment seriously and have industry leading processes in place to comply with local, state and federal environmental laws."

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In 2010, Walmart reached a $25 million court-supervised settlement with the California Attorney General's Office requiring proper disposal of consumer products such as lip balm, empty shampoo bottles, aerosol cans and loose AA batteries. In addition, the company plead guilty in 2013 to improperly discarding of hazardous waste, resulting in a two year-probation, a $40 million fine and $20 million in community service payments.

The retailer emphasized that it has met the 2010 settlement's requirements by building and maintain its hazardous waste compliance programs and that the new investigation is simply an effort to receive another substantial financial payment from another settlement. However, the state argues that the "mere presence of a program and requisite training does not equate to compliance."

"Instead of trying to come into compliance with the law, Walmart claims that its corporate sustainability achievements and its past criminal and civil penalty payments fulfill its compliance responsibilities," the California AG's Office said.

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Walmart has said no fines have been imposed on the company from regulators' more than 3,800 environmental inspections since 2010. However, between 2015 and 2021, California investigators said 58 inspections of Walmart's trash compactors found dozens of items classified as either hazardous waste, medical waste or customer records with personal information. 

"Audits of our compactor waste conducted or overseen by the California Attorney General have shown the waste in our compactors contain at most 0.4% of items of potential concern they’ve identified," Walmart added. "The statewide average is 3% based on a CalRecycle statewide solid waste study, so Walmart’s compactors are far cleaner than the state average."

Walmart owns and operates over 300 retail stores and distribution centers in California.