DA joins illegal dumping suit against Walmart

CA Attorney General Rob Bonta files statewide lawsuit against Walmart for illegal dumping, Tulare County District Attorney Tim Ward included in filing

TULARE COUNTY – America’s largest box retailer is back in the hot seat after California Attorney General Rob Bonta filed a statewide lawsuit against Walmart for the illegal disposal of hazardous waste on Dec. 20. The California Department of Toxic Substances Control and twelve California district attorneys are involved in the lawsuit filing, including Tulare County DA Tim Ward.

“It’s my responsibility to make sure there’s an even playing field,” Ward said. “If the largest retailer can operate in a manner where non compliance just means a fine and that’s a cost of doing business, that’s really not fair to the average smaller businesses that are trying to comply.”

Over the past six years, Walmart is alleged to have violated California’s environmental laws and regulations by disposing of hazardous waste products at local landfills that are not equipped or authorized to receive this type of waste. According to results from Walmart’s own inspections, the California Department of Justice estimates the company unlawfully disposes of approximately 159,600 pounds—more than 1 million items—of hazardous waste per year in California.

In the lawsuit, Attorney General Bonta and the district attorneys allege that Walmart violated the Hazardous Waste Control Law, the Medical Waste Management Act, the Customer Personal Information Law and the Unfair Competition Law.

“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,” Attorney General Bonta said. “This lawsuit should serve as a warning to the state’s worst offenders. We will hold you accountable.”

In 2010, the California Attorney General’s Office reached a $25 million settlement against Walmart for illegally disposing of hazardous waste. Despite the injunctive terms Walmart agreed to as part of the settlement, inspections beginning in 2015 found that Walmart was continuing to conduct operations in California in violation of state laws.

From 2015 to 2021, California investigators conducted 58 inspections across 13 counties of trash compactors taken from Walmart stores. In each and every single case, they found dozens of items classified as hazardous waste, medical waste, and/or customer records with personal information. Yet 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.

Tulare County has not been spared from Walmart and other corporate dumping. In April 2015, inspections found Walmart to be illegally dumping pesticides, ignitable aerosols and waste, E-waste, batteries, liquid and solid hazardous waste, medical waste and consumer records containing personal identification.

Ward has also cracked down on other big Tulare County retailers for illegal dumping. In 2015, Tulare County’s eight Dollar tree stores were ordered to pay more than $30,000 as part of a statewide ruling against the discount retailer’s unlawful disposal of hazardous waste, totalling $2,720,000 in civil penalties, costs and supplemental environmental projects.

In 2013, 51 California District Attorneys, including Ward, settled a civil environmental prosecution for Rite Aid Corporation to pay $12,324,000 for claims that more than 600 California Rite Aid stores unlawfully handled and disposed of hazardous wastes and materials over a six-and-a-half year period. During the investigation, a number of waste inspections were conducted on the Rite Aid facilities in Tulare County.

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