Whole Foods Agrees to Improve Waste Management in EPA Settlement
Facilities in Texas, Ark., La., Okla., and N.M. included in $3.5M settlement
Joe Hubbard or Jennah Durant at 214-665-2200 or firstname.lastname@example.org
DALLAS – (Sept. 20, 2016) Today the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a settlement with Whole Foods, Inc. over violations of hazardous waste regulations. During a year-long investigation, EPA found Whole Foods improperly identified or mishandled hazardous waste at company facilities throughout Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico and Oklahoma. In addition to correcting the violations, Whole Foods will also pay penalties totaling more than $3.5 million and promote hazardous waste compliance in the retail industry as part of a supplemental environmental project, or SEP.
“All companies must follow the law and be responsible stewards of their hazardous waste, from generating it to safely disposing of it,” said Regional Administrator Ron Curry. “Whole Foods is correcting these violations and will ensure their stores and facilities continue to comply with environmental regulations. They will also look into launching an innovative hazardous waste tracking system that we hope becomes the industry standard.”
After the New Mexico Environment Department asked EPA to follow-up on information they shared on Whole Foods, EPA enforcement officials uncovered violations during a year-long investigation and record review of Whole Foods’ actions as a generator of hazardous waste. Investigators in EPA Region 6 found Whole Foods did not properly make hazardous waste determinations at facilities in Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and New Mexico, as required by the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). Whole Foods also improperly handled spent lamps, which are categorized as “universal” hazardous waste, a type of hazardous waste composed of items common to many types of facilities and industrial sectors.
As part of the settlement with Texas facilities, Whole Foods will create and fund a SEP to educate Texas retailers—particularly smaller businesses—about hazardous waste laws and the importance of maintaining compliance. This SEP, worth $500,000, aims to raise awareness of business owners’ responsibilities and increase compliance with regulations, and will result in environmental benefit to communities.
The RCRA Hazardous Waste Program establishes a system for controlling hazardous waste from the time it is generated until its ultimate disposal, including treatment and storage. EPA and the states verify compliance with these requirements through a comprehensive compliance monitoring program, which includes inspecting facilities, reviewing records and taking enforcement action where necessary.
More on hazardous waste enforcement:
Are Fluorescent Bulbs Regulated Waste
Answer: It depends on whether or not the bulbs contain a certain amount of mercury and exhibit characteristics of waste toxicity. You can test this with the Toxicity Characteristic Leaching Procedure (TCLP). You can also check with the bulb’s generator who may have already tested the bulb’s mercury levels.
If your bulbs have less than 0.2 milligrams per liter (mg/L) of mercury they aren’t subject to federal regulations. Check state and local regulations, however, which might be stricter than federal regulations.
If your bulbs contain more than 0.2 mg/L of mercury, the bulbs are considered hazardous and need to be disposed of as such. You have a choice on how to manage hazardous bulbs and lamps.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), hazardous fluorescent bulbs and lamps can be managed under full Resource Conservation Recovery Act (RCRA) hazardous waste regulations, or they can be managed under the RCRA’s Universal Waste Rule (UWR), which is less stringent than hazardous waste regulations.
The UWR was created to reduce the regulatory burden on generators, allow them more flexibility for managing universal waste streams and encourage recycling. Under the federal UWR, spent fluorescent bulbs and lamps that are intact and are going to be recycled have relaxed regulatory requirements.
Like RCRA’s hazardous waste rules, generators of universal waste are divided into categories. Small quantity handlers accumulate less than 5,000 kg of universal waste at any time. Large quantity handlers have greater than 5,000 kg of universal waste onsite at any time. It is important to note that state regulations vary greatly when it comes to managing universal wastes, so it is best to verify whether your state follows the federal regulation or if they have enacted more stringent rules.
Under the federal regulations, small quantity handlers of universal waste must:
- Not dispose of the universal waste [40 CFR 273.11(a)]
- Prevent releases (spills) into the environment [40 CFR 273.13(d)]
- Keep the lamps and bulbs in structurally sound, closed containers [40 CFR 273.13(d)]
- Immediately clean up any broken lamps or bulbs and place the waste in a sealed container [40 CFR 273.13(d) and 40 CFR 273.17]
- Label collection containers with the words “Universal Waste – Lamp(s),” “Waste Lamp(s)” or “Used Lamps” [40 CFR 273.14]
- Train employees on proper handling and emergency response procedures [40 CFR 273.16]
Large quantity generators of universal waste have similar requirements. They are forbidden to dispose of or treat the wastes, must label containers, prevent releases, clean up any broken lamps and train employees. In addition, they must also notify the EPA of their status as a large quantity generator, obtain an EPA identification number and track shipments.
According to the Association of Lighting and Mercury Recyclers, over 670 million fluorescent lamps and bulbs are recycled or disposed of in the United States each year. Improperly disposed of lamps can easily break and release two to four tons of mercury into the environment annually. Determine whether your fluorescent bulbs and lamps are federally or locally regulated before disposing of them.