Fines for Waste Violations Triple in California

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Christine Uri Chief Sustainability and Legal Officer at ENGIE Impact

Are You Tossing Out $70K With Your Trash?

Businesses in California have long had reason to pay close attention to their waste streams. California has some of the most restrictive waste regulations in the U.S. and supports an active enforcement agency – the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC). Retailers and other businesses have been fined millions for having hazardous items in their garbage bins. Just ask the many companies who have had to pay steep fines when inspections uncovered things like batteries, aerosols, expired or not over-the-counter medications, and other household hazardous products in their waste containers.

On January 1, 2018, California’s Governor Brown signed a bill to amend the health and safety code to increase penalties for hazardous waste violations. Implementation was delayed because the DTSC’s hazardous waste regulations (22 California Code of Regulations) reflected the original penalty amounts. This changed on July 5, 2018 when DTSC issued an emergency rule that nearly triples the maximum daily penalty from $25,000 to $70,000. This emergency rule will be in place until January 3, 2019, and we can expect that DTSC will continue working on a final rule in the interim.

This continues the trend of increasing penalties for waste violations that we have seen across the country. On August 1, 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officially raised the maximum civil penalties for certain violations of EPA regulations including the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) which regulates hazardous waste storage, management, and disposal at the federal level. The maximum civil penalty for a RCRA violation increased from $37,500 (already a hefty fine) to $93,750.

Now more than ever, businesses need to ensure their waste management practices comply with state and federal regulations. Companies may have internal programs in place to educate employees on proper disposal, but such programs commonly fail to include a control that confirms compliance – i.e., a “dive” into the dumpster. I recently had the opportunity to go dumpster diving with our (ENGIE Impact’s) waste consulting team as part of a client waste compliance audit, and I can tell you firsthand that you may be surprised by what’s in your garbage bins. A waste audit is informative and may even save you $70,000 a day in avoided fines and penalties within your California portfolio.