Walmart Pleads Guilty to Dumping Hazardous Waste in California

WalmartWalmart pled guilty in a federal court in San Francisco to dumping hazardous waste into sanitation drains in California, the Associated Press reported. Walmart agreed to pay about $82 million in damages, with the majority ($60 million) for misdemeanor clean Water Act violations in California. The rest of the damages will be paid to Missouri for misdemeanor Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) violations, and the EPA to settle FIFRA violations charges.

The charges date back to 2006, and there have not been any allegations since that time. Walmart spokesperson, Brooke Buchanan stated in a video posted on the company’s website (and in a press release) that the “incidents on which the charges are based occurred years ago and involved the transportation and disposal of common consumer products – such as mouthwash and hairspray – that are treated as hazardous waste at the retail level.” Buchanan pointed out that “no environmental impact has been alleged.”

Walmart’s environmental compliance program

Since 2006, Walmart has developed an environmental compliance program that the company characterizes as “comprehensive.” Phyllis Harris, senior vice president and chief compliance officer, Walmart US, said the environmental compliance program “was built around training, policies and procedures on how to safely handle consumer products that become hazardous waste, and we continue to run the same program in every store and club that was deployed years ago.”

The specific environmental compliance measures, as laid out in a fact sheet, include:

  • Creating almost 50 environmental compliance staff, with elevated management authority. Among the staff positions created are a senior vice president and chief compliance officer, regional compliance managers, market managers, claims supervisors, and Sam’s Club compliance associates.
  • Developing and implementing over 100 environmental compliance standard operating procedures for Walmart stores and clubs. The standards include implementing and tracking environmental training for store and club associates, and monitoring and tracking the disposition of products discarded at return centers.
  • Clearly identifying consumer products sold in stores and clubs that will create hazardous waste if discarded, and providing this information to store and club associates on handheld terminals and shelf labels. There are several ways that Walmart ensures this policy is being followed in its stores and clubs. Walmart uses third party audits to measure the execution of its environmental compliance program at the store and club level. The audits occur every other month for stores and once a quarter for clubs. The company also uses a web-based data management system which identifies, tracks and reports environmental regulations for every facility to corporate environmental managers.
  • Implementing a hazardous waste management system so that store and club associates properly throw away regulated items. Walmart created a color-coded bucket system to help its associates know how to throw away hazardous waste. The four colors are red (for products such as over-the-counter medicines), black (for products such as certain lawn and garden pesticides), yellow (for products such as certain bleaches and pool chemicals), and blue (for aerosol cans, including hairsprays and air fresheners).
  • Providing enhanced environmental compliance training to associates in stores and clubs across the U.S. Walmart has eight environmental computer-based learning modules that are designed to provide over one million hours of environmental compliance training every year for its associates. The company also has yearly refresher courses in the U.S.

[image credit: Flickr user, matteson.norman]

Gina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by

3 responses

  1. Walmart – why the heck do your sales associates think it’s a good idea to pour mouthwash in a storm drain? They all have signs next to them saying “This goes directly into the ocean – storm runoff only” I’m glad Walmart is improving its worker training moving forward, but gawd, what a good example of one of the unintended consequences of not investing in your labor force, bottom of the barrel pay, and frequent turnovers.

  2. This is generally a positive story. Walmart was super lazy about explaining to their employees how to do things right. They got called on it. They acted.. I’m cool with that but would certainly like to see more!

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