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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