California attorney general accuses retail giant of failing to properly dispose of items including batteries, cleaning supplies and electronic waste

Walmart has previously faced lawsuits and criminal charges over its disposal practices.
Photograph: Jae C Hong/AP

Walmart illegally dumps more than 1 million batteries, aerosol cans of insect killer and other products, toxic cleaning supplies, electronic waste, latex paints and other hazardous waste into California landfills each year, state prosecutors have alleged.

In a lawsuit announced on Monday, the California attorney general, Rob Bonta, accused the retail giant of failing to properly dispose of discarded or returned goods.

“When a big box store disposes of unwanted goods, just like the rest of us, they need to do so properly. Unfortunately, Walmart, the largest company in the world by revenue, has failed to do that on a grand scale here in California,” Bonta said.

The attorney general’s office settled a similar lawsuit in 2010 in which Walmart, which operates more than 300 stores in California, paid $25m and agreed to stop the dumping into local landfills that are not equipped to contain the hazardous products.

It paid $1.25m to Missouri in 2012 to settle a similar lawsuit. And in 2013, the company pleaded guilty to six federal misdemeanors of negligently discharging a pollutant into drains in 16 California counties, part of an $81m deal that also included charges in Missouri.

A company spokesman, Randy Hargrove, called the lawsuit “unjustified” and said Walmart would fight it.

“The state is demanding a level of compliance regarding waste disposal from our stores of common household products and other items that goes beyond what is required by law,” Hargrove said.

More than 3,800 audits overseen by the attorney general’s office since 2010 found that Walmart’s trash compactors “contain at most 0.4% of items of potential concern”, compared with a statewide average of 3%, Hargrove said: “Our compactors are far cleaner than the state average.”

Bonta said Walmart’s own inspections showed it illegally disposed of nearly 80 tons of such waste each year, which his office estimated amounted to more than 1m individual items.

“It’s not rocket science,” he said. “You can’t be sending these hazardous waste products into the general stream of sanitation. It’s dangerous, it’s unhealthy.”

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Meredith Williams, director of the California department of toxic substances control, said at a news conference announcing the lawsuit: “Pesticides, electronics, household hazardous waste must be disposed of properly, or they can be released into our air, our water and soil, resulting in a number of negative health outcomes, including cancer, neurological disorders, asthma, or learning disabilities.”

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