Safeway has agreed to pay nearly $10 million to settle allegations that its grocery stores improperly disposed of hazardous waste and customers' medical information in California. In a separate settlement, Los Angeles-based 99 Cents Only Stores will pay more than $2 million to settle retail hazardous waste disposal violations in California.
Safeway’s agreement comes after an investigation found that the company was "routinely and systematically" sending hazardous materials such as medicine and batteries to local landfills, according to the Alameda County district attorney's office. The civil lawsuit filed by the district attorneys of several California counties claimed that more than 500 Safeway, Vons, Pavilions and Pak 'n Save stores and distribution centers were engaging in improper waste disposal over a 7 1/2 year period.
Under the terms of the settlement, Safeway admits to no wrongdoing but will pay $9.87 million in civil penalties, costs and supplemental environmental projects. The company also adopted new policies and procedures to ensure proper disposal of pharmaceutical and other hazardous waste in the future.
The settlement dealing with the 99 Cents Only Stores resulted from an investigation into the company’s storage, handling and disposal of hazardous and pharmaceutical waste products into trash bins at each of the 251 stores and distribution centers in California, which found that instead of being sent to authorized disposal sites, hazardous waste and other contaminated materials were being unlawfully transported to area landfills.
Under the settlement, the company must pay $1.8 million in civil penalties, $312,500 in costs and $250,000 in supplemental environmental projects. The settlement also requires 99 Cents Only Stores to implement enhanced environmental compliance efforts.
After being notified by prosecutors of the issues, 99 Cents Only Stores worked cooperatively to remedy the issue and train its employees to properly handle hazardous waste. The hazardous waste is now being collected by state-registered haulers, taken to proper disposal facilities and properly documented and accounted for. 99 Cents Only Stores have also adopted new waste management policies and procedures designed to eliminate the disposal of retail hazardous waste products and pharmaceutical waste into store trash bins for eventual disposal into local landfills, not equipped to handle such wastes.
Last year, Lowe's was ordered to pay $18 million for illegally disposing hazardous waste, including pesticides, batteries, fluorescent bulbs and other toxic materials, as a result of a civil enforcement action. According to the suit, more than 100 Lowe's stores throughout California routinely sent items such as spilled or returned paint or damaged batteries to local landfills that were not permitted to receive the materials. The suit claimed the company also took used batteries and used fluorescent light bulbs collected from its stores' recycling programs and threw them in the garbage.
The solar industry is also suffering from problems related to hazardous waste disposal. Only seven companies representing just a quarter of the total photovoltaic (PV) module market share responded to the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition’s (SVTC) Fifth Annual 2014 Solar Scorecard, which ranks manufacturers of solar (PV) modules according to a range of environmental, sustainability and social justice factors. The lack of responsiveness to SVTC’s survey suggests many of these companies are hoping the public will not notice their internal sustainability problems as they attempt to come out on top in an ever-competitive market.