What could your facility do with $100 million? We’d suggest spending at least part of it on environmental compliance and training — it just might keep your facility out of tomorrow’s headlines.
Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, recently received a fine of $81.6 million for improperly handling and disposing of hazardous wastes and pesticides at several of their retail locations. And that’s just the amount of the fine. It doesn’t include the additional $30 million in other expenses associated with the violations.
According to federal prosecutors, Wal-Mart employees tossed hazardous wastes into trashcans or dumped them into drains instead of handling and disposing of them properly. In addition, they said that until January 2006, the retailer did not have a hazardous waste program in place, nor did they train their employees on how to properly handle hazardous wastes. In 2010, the retailer paid over $27 million to settle similar non-compliance allegations.
Although these fines didn’t make a huge dent in Wal-Mart’s overall finances, it was enough of a wake-up call for them to create a compliance office, establish proper handling procedures and conduct training for all employees.
Here’s how Wal-Mart’s situation relates to you: If your facility creates any kind of waste, you must determine if those wastes are hazardous using the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Hazardous Waste Identification Rule. If they are, then you need to follow the rules for hazardous waste generators. EPA has guidance documents for generators that even provide information specific to managing hazardous wastes in containers.
If you already know your facility uses hazardous materials and generates hazardous wastes, then you have obligations under the Resource Conservation Recovery Act (RCRA). These EPA requirements apply to generators and transporters of hazardous waste as well as Transportation, Storage and Disposal Facilities (TSDFs).
Unfamiliar with RCRA? RCRA establishes regulations for the proper storage, handling, transportation and recycling or disposal of hazardous wastes. The EPA’s website provides a great overview of these regulations.
The Wal-Mart citation proves that ignorance of EPA rules is clearly not bliss. Creating a plan, training employees to follow it and managing hazardous wastes responsibly does take a little time — and may even cost a little money. But it sure beats paying $100 million in fines.