Big Lots Forced to Pay Millions of Dollars For Improperly Handling E-Waste

Earlier this year, Dollar General announced that their parent company, Dolgen California, was ordered to pay over $1 million in damages for improperly handling e-waste and other hazardous materials. Prosecutors accused Dolgen California of improperly handling and disposing of corrosive waste, batteries, aerosol cans, and other types of hazardous materials. Several weeks ago, the nationwide retailer Big Lots made a similar announcement after reaching a settlement with 35 district attorneys in the state of California. The attorneys alleged that Big Lots created an environmental hazard by not following the proper protocol for disposing of hazardous waste.

The retailer will pay over $3.5 million, with over $2 million in civil penalties, $336,000 to reimburse the state for the cost of the investigation, $350,000 to fund various environmental projects, and over $800,000 to fund projects related to hazardous waste reduction.

The investigation into Big Lots’ hazardous waste management began after prosecutors discovered that the retailer did not properly manage or dispose of various hazardous materials at any of its 206 stores or distribution center in California. Prosecutors revealed that Big Lots employees were putting hazardous waste such as corrosive liquids, batteries, and electronic devices in dumpsters that were emptied at local landfills instead of transporting the waste to the appropriate facility. Landfills are not equipped to dispose of hazardous materials, which is why hazardous waste must be sent to special facilities that are specifically designed to handle toxic chemicals.

“Big Lots is a national chain that without a doubt produces a significant amount of hazardous waste through customer returns, product spills, and damaged goods,” John Shegerian, CEO of Electronic Recyclers International (ERI) says. “If hazardous waste is not properly disposed of, toxic chemicals within the waste could be released into the atmosphere or seep into the ground, where they can quickly contaminate the water supply.”

“Electronic waste in particular contains a number of toxic chemicals, including cadmium, lead, nickel, and chromium,” Shegerian continues. “Researchers have found that people who are exposed to these chemicals can suffer a wide range of serious health conditions, including skin irritations, weakened bones, respiratory issues, and various cancers.”

“By sending these hazardous materials to local landfills, Big Lots made the reprehensible decision to contribute to the poisoning of our environment and our communities,” Shegerian states. “Hopefully, this settlement reminds other retailers that there are financial repercussions for not making the safe disposal of hazardous waste a priority.”

For the district attorneys involved in the case, the settlement was a long time coming. The retailer initially received a subpoena for information on the company’s e-waste management from Alameda County district attorney Nancy O’Malley in October of 2013.  After several years, Big Lots entered into negotiations with the district attorneys in early 2016, and finally reached a settlement in April of this year.

Big Lots is far from the only retailer to run into trouble when it comes to hazardous waste management. Besides Dollar General, other retailers that have been involved in similar cases in California include Safeway, Inc., Target, and Wal-Mart. Target was ordered to pay over $22 million in damages for improperly disposing of electronic waste, while Wal-Mart agreed to pay nearly $82 million after pleading guilty to improperly disposing of e-waste in California and Missouri.

Big Lots may not be obligated to pay as much as these big-name retailers, but there was one positive outcome of this investigation. The prosecutors involved in the case against Big Lots reported that the retailer was cooperative once they were notified of the investigation into their hazardous waste management. As a result of this case, the retailer now transports all of its hazardous waste to a facility that has been authorized to safely dispose of it.