Retailers across the nation are buttressing their trash disposal practices after Dollar General Stores and Big Lots Stores paid Millions of dollars to settle civil suits for environmental violations for the unlawful disposal of hazardous waste, including customer returned merchandise and batteries.

Most businesses should have a solid waste management plan to provide staff with procedures for complying with laws (e.g., at a minimum, many businesses have batteries and mercury containing lamps, the disposal of which is regulated) and ideally aimed at reducing the amount of waste sent to landfills, a mainstay in environmental stewardship.

In the latest case on April 27, 2017, the Riverside County, California District Attorney along with 34 District Attorney’s Offices and two City Attorney’s Offices across California, announced in a press release that Superior Court Judge Bryan F. Foster ordered Ohio based Big Lots Stores, Inc., and its subsidiary corporations, to pay $3.5 Million in civil penalties and costs for environmental violations.

The judgement in the civil lawsuit filed in San Bernardino County Superior Court is the result of an investigation into the unlawful disposal of hazardous waste by Big Lots Stores at its distribution center and its 206 California stores over several years.

The lawsuit alleged that, instead of transporting hazardous waste to authorized hazardous waste facilities, Big Lots illegally disposed of the waste in the trash and illegally transported it to local landfills. The hazardous waste included ignitable and corrosive liquids, toxic materials, batteries, and waste from electronic devices. Some of the waste was the result of spills, damaged containers, or customer returns.

Big Lots cooperated during the subsequent investigation. Big Lots has now adopted and implemented new policies and procedures, as well as new training programs to properly manage and dispose of hazardous waste. Big Lots hazardous waste is now collected by state registered haulers to transport it to authorized disposal facilities and is now being properly documented.

In another case brought only days before, Yolo County District Attorney along with 31 other California District Attorneys announced on April 17, 2017 in a media release that Superior Court Judge Sidney P. Chapin ordered the Tennessee based company Dolgen California and its subsidiary corporations, to pay $1.125 Million as part of a settlement of a civil environmental prosecution.  Dolgen and its subsidiary corporations own and operate Dollar General stores and distribution center in California.

The consent judgment resolves allegations made in a civil enforcement lawsuit that alleged Dollar General retail stores throughout the state and its distribution center unlawfully handled and disposed of various hazardous wastes and materials over a five year period.  Those hazardous wastes and materials included automotive fluids, alkaline batteries, electronic waste, aerosol cans, expired over the counter medications and other toxic, ignitable and corrosive wastes.

This settlement holds Dolgen California and its subsidiary corporations responsible for years of unlawful management of hazardous waste,

said District Attorney Reisig.

The terms of this settlement will require these companies to improve the training of their staff and the monitoring and management of their hazardous waste.

This is not a California only issue. Media reports describe that in recent years many retailers, including single stores and national brands, from Whole Foods to Wal-Mart have been the subject of federal and state hazardous waste violation actions.

In the event products sold by retailers nationwide are returned, recalled, damaged in the store or expire on the shelves, which are every day occurrences, when discarded many of those products are a hazardous waste under federal and state laws.

As a practical matter, many if not most businesses should have a solid waste management plan to provide staff with procedures for complying with laws for waste from ongoing consumables, from durable goods, as well as from facility alterations and additions. Many items that appear to the unknowledgeable to be “trash” are regulated hazardous waste.

This law firm has provided hazardous waste management services for retailers, including in the pharmaceutical industry, as well as a host of other businesses from landscapers to medical offices, ranging from solid waste management plans (that can qualify for LEED credits), to waste characterization, training programs, and regulatory notifications.