black trash bags

Retailers face many challenges: staff retention, rising prices, product shortages, transportation delays, and more. When you’re racing to get new hires trained on basic tasks – how to stock shelves and run the register – who has time to worry about what they’re throwing in the dumpsters?

Every store manager and corporate compliance department should worry. Improper disposal of regulated wastes can expose sanitation workers to dangerous substances and harm both water quality and wildlife. State and local regulators take these issues seriously – retailers should too.

Many Retailers Make Disposal Mistakes – and Pay the Price

Improper waste segregation isn’t a new problem. Many large retailers have faced substantial fines when employees mixed hazardous and universal wastes with regular trash. For example:

  • In 2013, a large big box retailer of general merchandise and groceries paid $81.6 million in fines after employees in California and Missouri stores improperly disposed of “fertilizer, pesticides and other hazardous products” by placing these hazardous materials in regular trash dumpsters or pouring them into the sewer.
  • In 2020, another specialty retailer paid California a $1.4 million settlement after electronic items and hazardous waste, including lithium batteries and a small can of lighter fluid” mixed with regular trash ignited a fire at a local waste handling facility. A few months later, another fire started in a dumpster behind a store in Oxnard, CA. “Investigators inspected the waste and again and discovered numerous items of regulated waste, including batteries, broken compact fluorescent bulbs and various discarded electronic devices.”
  • In 2021, California officials filed a statewide lawsuit against a large big box retailer alleging that the company “illegally dumped nearly 160,000 pounds of hazardous waste, or more than 1 million items, each year in California over the last six years.”
  • In 2020, a large pharmacy agreed to settle allegations after California prosecutors accused the company of “unlawfully [disposing] of hazardous waste in violation of state laws and injunctive terms from a 2012 stipulated judgment.”

Smaller companies are also at risk if they don’t follow state and federal regulations regarding the classification, storage, and disposal of hazardous wastes.

  • In 2021, a North Carolina e-waste recycler pled guilty after being charged with violating EPA regulations regarding the proper storage of hazardous waste.
  • In 2022, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality fined an Albany painting and construction company $17,200 for illegally disposing of hazardous waste on the company’s property and failing to make “hazardous waste determinations on wastes generated” by the business.

Employee Training on Proper Waste Segregation and Disposal Is Critical

No business wants to contaminate the local community with hazardous wastes or expose workers to potential harm. Still, it does happen – often because many employees aren’t adequately trained on waste identification, segregation, and disposal.

Retailers deal with a wide variety of products, many of which don’t seem hazardous to laypeople, so employee training is critical. According to the Retail Compliance Center:

“Many household products sold in retail grocery stores may need to be handled as hazardous or universal waste when returned, expired, recalled, or damaged. Hazardous waste items can be found in several product categories, including aerosol sprays, hair dyes, detergents, cosmetics, fragrances and perfumes, and cleaners. Universal waste items defined by the federal regulations include certain types of batteries, light bulbs, mercury-containing devices (e.g., thermometers), certain recalled or unused pesticides, and aerosol cans. Universal waste regulations can vary from state to state, and some states may allow additional wastes to be handled as universal wastes, such as electronics. ”

High employee turnover further complicates compliance because stores constantly have to train new employees. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, retail turnover in the retail trade was 64.6% in 2021. In particular retail segments, it’s much higher. In 2021, convenience stores experienced a 119% turnover rate for full-time employees and 182% turnover for part-time workers.

Sharps Compliance Is a Hazardous Waste Disposal Partner You Can Depend On

Hazardous and universal waste disposal is subject to multiple state, local, and federal regulations. Federal and state hazardous waste classifications may differ, with state laws being more stringent. What’s more, regulations change frequently, and it’s hard to wade through the bureaucratic language to understand what you need to do to comply.

Who has time to keep up with all this? 

Sharps Compliance does. We provide the tools you need to comply with regulations regarding required employee training as well as the storage, labeling, transportation, and treatment of many different regulated wastes

Visit our knowledge base of hazardous waste articles and guides to learn more about hazardous waste classification, RCRA guidelines, and other topics.

Whether you manage a nationwide retailer, a statewide chain, or a local business, Sharps Compliance can help you protect your employees, community, and the environment while complying with applicable regulations.

Contact us at 800.772.5657 for more information, or visit our customer center for more information or customer support.

Joe Jordan has a Bachelors of Arts degree in Chemistry from Washington and Jefferson College. He is certified in RCRA and DOT as well as 40 Hour HAZWOPER certified. Joe has been in the hazardous waste industry since 1990 and has managed industrial, healthcare, retail, and governmental clients, both large and small.

published in Hazardous Waste