AutoZone Enters $11 Million Settlement With California Over Improper Waste Disposal

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
autozone enters 11 million settlement with california over improper waste disposal

Ignoring the personal pride associated with maintaining a vehicle yourself, disposing of motor oil is an annoying chore. While not terribly difficult, laziness sometimes gets the better of us. Why bother risking the wellbeing of your interior with dirty fluids when there’s a perfectly good storm drain nearby?

While I’ve never dumped my fluids illegally, I know the temptation. Ten coffee cans full of used motorcycle oil will do that to you and, for every receptacle filled and slid to the back of your garage, the urge to tip them grows ever stronger. But I eventually sacked up and took them to AutoZone for recycling, effectively ending my youthful act of torpid rebellion.

Unfortunately, AutoZone may have also had a problem with the competent disposal of used motor oil — and 5 million other environmentally hazardous waste items. Sounds like someone is about to “get in the zone” of a huge fine.

On Tuesday, the California Attorney General’s Office issued an $11 million settlement against the auto parts retailer over claims that the company illegally disposed of hazardous waste — such as motor oil, fluids, and batteries — at landfills never intended for such materials.

This has been a long time coming. Investigations were conducted between 2013 and 2015 after some whistleblowing made the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office Environmental Protection Unit highly suspicious. AutoZone is now facing allegations of having illegally deposited vehicular waste within 45 California counties.

From the California Attorney General’s Office:

District Attorneys’ offices throughout California conducted 56 inspections of dumpster bins at 49 separate AutoZone facilities. These investigations found numerous instances of unlawful disposal of hazardous waste including batteries, aerosol cans, electronic devices, and hundreds of discarded bottles and other receptacles containing automotive fluids and other regulated hazardous waste. These investigative efforts revealed that AutoZone allowed its customers to deposit hazardous automotive fluids and other waste items into regular trash containers in AutoZone stores’ parking lots throughout California. AutoZone facilities in 45 counties in California were found by the prosecuting offices to have committed these environmental violations. It is estimated that AutoZone illegally disposed of over five million hazardous waste items in California.

AutoZone also violated laws protecting vulnerable confidential consumer information by unlawfully disposing of customer records without having rendered personal information unreadable.

Considering that this is a nation-wide chain, there is reason to believe locations outside of California may have engaged in similar behaviors. There’s also a strong possibility other retailers are also guilty of illegally dumping oil. California’s attorney general believes that’s all the more reason to set an example with this settlement.

“AutoZone violated California law by improperly disposing of millions of toxic and hazardous waste items. It endangered our environment and public health,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement. “AutoZone must now pay the price for breaking the law. The California Department of Justice is committed to investigating and holding accountable violators of our laws meant to protect California’s environment and communities.”

The settlement calls for $8.9 million in civil penalties, $1.35 million in supplemental environment projects and $750,000 for the reimbursement of investigative and enforcement costs. AutoZone does get a credit of $1 million against the penalties if it undertakes at least $2 million in environmental enhancement work not required by law. In addition, the settlement has provisions requiring the company to undergo a general compliance audit and a trash receptacle audit to ensure hazardous waste and confidential consumer information is properly disposed of at all facilities in the future. The results of these audits will be shared with the public.

[Image: Mahmoud Masad/Shutterstock]

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  • Macmcmacmac Macmcmacmac on Jun 23, 2019

    I remember working at a shop years ago and having to dump oily sludge along the fence line to "keep the weeds down". I had just dug it all out of the floor sump where it had built up like black mayo. I wised up and never did it again, refusing to even take full 5 gallon drums to the landfill for dumping. You can't hide behind following orders. The fine goes directly to the person dumping the oil. There was that one day at a foundry where we needed a 55gal drum to store the oil we were going to remove from a machine. One of the drones kicked a drum full of waste oil over onto the ground and said "There you go!"

  • Arthur Dailey Arthur Dailey on Jun 24, 2019

    What the heck happened the past few days, following this article are some of the more misinformed postings I have seen on TTAC. In Canada, we have Canadian Tire. Over 80% of Canadians, go into a Canadian Tire store on a monthly basis. It dominates the auto part/car care industry. Yes, many dealerships used to burn the old oil to heat their buildings. This became illegal over a decade ago. Unless they could spend many, many dollars on specialized equipment. None that I know of did. In Toronto, the human waste extracted from the sewage system is diverted, cleared of other contaminants, composted and eventually sold to agricultural interests to be used as fertilizer. Dumps and landfills emit methane gas. They contaminant the local ground water. The may contain products such as plastics that have lifespans longer than any of us. The European system of incinerating waste and using it to generate energy is not perfect but probably the best of some very bad practices.

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