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Attorney General Rob Bonta. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for California Globe)

California Files Lawsuit Against Walmart Over Hazardous Waste Disposal

Other state departments, 12 county DAs join lawsuit

By Evan Symon, December 20, 2021 1:05 pm

Attorney General Rob Bonta announced on Monday that the California Department of Justice would be suing Walmart over the illegal dumping of hazardous waste.

According to a press release on Monday, the state alleges that the retailer has been illegally disposing of hazardous waste products in California landfills since 2015. Specifically, Walmart had been sending environmentally damaging products such as alkaline and lithium batteries, pesticides, aerosol cans, toxic cleaning supplies, electronic waste, latex paints, and LED lightbulbs to regular landfills sites rather than landfills equipped to handle toxic materials. Other things thrown away, such as paperwork with confidential customer information, was also thrown away without precautions.

In total, the state estimates that 159,600 pounds of hazardous materials have been thrown away by Walmart each year. As a result, the California DOJ, in conjunction with the California Department of Toxic Substances Control and the district attorneys of Alameda, Fresno, Monterey, Orange, Riverside, Sacramento, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Joaquin, Solano, Tulare, and Yolo counties, are suing the company over breaking 4 state laws in California v. Walmart. These include the Hazardous Waste Control Law, the Medical Waste Management Act, the Customer Personal Information Law, and the Unfair Competition Law.

“Walmart’s own audits found that the company is dumping hazardous waste at local landfills at a rate of more than one million items each year. From there, these products may seep into the state’s drinking water as toxic pollutants or into the air as dangerous gases,” said Attorney General Bonta on Monday. “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. This lawsuit should serve as a warning to the state’s worst offenders. We will hold you accountable. As the People’s Attorney, taking on corporate polluters and protecting public health will always be among my top priorities.”

Many county DA’s also gave short statements on Monday, including Fresno County DA Lisa Smittcamp who noted that “Californians expect and deserve that our laws will be enforced consistently and against all who violate them, including big business. This cooperative enforcement action represents a critical first step in putting offenders on notice and holding them accountable for violations of our environmental protection laws.”

“The illegal dumping and disposal of hazardous materials adversely impacts every member of our community and causes irreparable harm,” added San Joaquin County DA Tori Verber Salazar in a statement. “We must hold violators, including retail conglomerates, accountable to ensure the safety and well-being of our communities.”

Another California lawsuit for Walmart

While Walmart officials did not comment on the lawsuit as of Monday afternoon, many noted that Walmart and other retailers have had a history of improperly disposing of trash before.

“Walmart had to shell out over $27 million in 2010 to California for almost the exact same thing,” said environmental investigator Michael Hines to the Globe on Monday. “And since 2000, they’ve had environmental lawsuits in Connecticut, in Texas, with the EPA, and more. And that’s just Walmart. Look at similar stores and you see the same problem.”

“It’s likely not malicious, you know, they’re not purposely trying to do this. It’s more likely out of ease, or not knowing they need to separate, and other factors. But the fact that it happened before won’t look good. Just like criminals in court, being a repeat offender doesn’t exactly earn you points with a judge.”

The California v. Walmart suit is expected to be heard in court sometime next year.

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