Firestone Complete Auto Care joins Walmart and Morgan Stanley with its own e waste disposal debacle.
In the past six months, we’ve devoted several blog posts to highlighting e waste disposal failures by big companies. The sheer number of issues really underscores how challenging the task of parting with retired IT equipment can be.
Clearly, the size of an organization does not automatically equal how-to knowledge about corporate electronic recycling and IT asset disposition.
Multi-million dollar settlement for unlawful disposal
Now, yet another company finds itself in hot water with authorities. Firestone Complete Auto Care has agreed to a nearly $4-million settlement with the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office and 28 other prosecutors in an environmental protection case that alleged the company unlawfully disposed of hazardous waste.
The settlement includes $2.865 million in civil fines, $350,000 to compensate county prosecutors for their multi-year investigation, and, finally, $750,000 toward new training and compliance measures. Among the hazardous waste that investigators allege Firestone mismanaged were batteries and electronic devices.
In a press release, the Alameda County district attorney said, “My office will continue to hold companies accountable for the harm they cause to Alameda County’s precious natural resources by violating our state’s important environmental laws. We are proud to work with our fellow prosecutors and environmental agencies statewide on this important enforcement action.”
So, with that latest debacle in mind, let’s take a quick look at three companies, their mistakes, and what you can learn from them.
Let’s jump straight to Firestone’s e waste disposal failure.
In 2016, investigators from Alameda County and Santa Clara County District Attorneys initiated unannounced inspections of Firestone trash containers. The findings spelled bad news for Firestone. Investigations lasted three years and turned up partially filled containers of solvents, automotive fluids and aerosols, batteries, and unspecified electronic devices.
In addition, investigators uncovered unredacted and unshredded customer records in the trash. Finally, in 2019, Firestone learned of the findings and said in a recent statement that it “moved immediately to address these issues.”
“We have increased teammate training activities and resources across our California stores, hired a dedicated California compliance officer, and established an updated compliance review process to ensure full compliance with our own internal standards as well as those of the relevant regulatory agencies,” the statement reads.
It can hardly get more straightforward from the perspective of electronic recycling: don’t throw electronics or batteries of any kind in the trash. Whether Firestone’s issues stemmed from ignorance of environmental and hazardous waste laws or pure neglect, the devastating impact remains the same.
When the time comes to dispose of surplus, retired, or obsolete electronics, your business needs an R2-certified partner. The R2-certification ensures ITAD companies meet the highest environmental and safety standards for the recycling of used electronics. While we like to point out that certification is only the first step to finding the right partner, it is indeed a crucial one.
Late last year, news spread of another big corporation in trouble for alleged improper e waste disposal. This time, it was Walmart’s turn to be scrutinized.
E-Scrap News in late December of 2021 reported California’s attorney general and several district attorneys had filed suit against Walmart, alleging the major retailer routinely disposed of e-scrap and other hazardous waste in an improper manner Walmart, in turn, responded that the state’s demands went beyond what’s required by law. The suit alleged Walmart had improperly sent hazardous waste collected at store locations across California to municipal landfills between 2015 and 2021.
To make matters worse, the allegations seemed to be part of a pattern for the retail giant. In 2010, the company paid $25 million in a settlement and agreed to comply with disposal laws. Two years later, in 2012, Walmart also paid $1.25 million to Missouri for a similar incident. And, in 2013, the company once again found itself in trouble, pleading guilty to negligently discharging a pollutant into drains in 16 counties in California.
There’s no debating that secure IT asset disposition would indeed have saved both the environment and Walmart. In short, ITAD services provide a systematic approach to managing the disposition of retired and outdated IT assets. Each service is designed to protect your data, minimize landfill use, maximize value recovery, and satisfy all regulatory requirements and corporate risk management initiatives.
The process meticulously tracks each asset. Further, the right ITAD partner sanitizes all data in compliance with NIST 800-88 standards for data destruction. With the correct process in place, you eliminate the risk of a discarded electronic asset ending up in a compactor or leaching dangerous chemicals into the groundwater. Another major benefit: it keeps you out of the news.
More on this topic: Secure ITAD: Why Walmart is in Trouble
The Morgan Stanley data breach made headlines late last summer, following a series of grave mistakes. In fact, the errors were so significant that we even created a video-Q&A to address them. So, what actually happened?
And it had to pay a sky high-price as a result.
In summary, the financial services powerhouse settled for the “poor man’s wipe.”
According to the court filing, Morgan Stanley changed ITAD vendors to save money during a 2016 data decommissioning job. The lawyers, representing the consumers in the class action complaint, alleged cost-cutting “at every corner” drove Morgan Stanley’s decision to part ways with IBM. Instead, Morgan Stanley opted for a local moving company with no ITAD experience. Although the change saved approximately $100,000, there was a problem: the new vendor botched the job. Unencrypted data was left intact on devices that were then sold on e-commerce platforms.
In addition, in a separate 2019 incident, the company, once again, allegedly did not properly sanitize servers and failed to follow chain-of-custody procedures. The U.S. Treasury Department, in response, slapped a $60 fine for data mismanagement on Morgan Stanley.
Among the many lessons, a key fact to remember concerns the risk of pursuing low quotes. Naturally, no one wants to pay more than they need for any job. And a company can hardly be faulted for being enticed by a competitive quote. But when you compare ITAD companies, a strikingly low offer may be a sign that something is amiss.
Recycling costs tend to correlate with the rigorousness of asset disposition — and data cleansing in particular. It requires specific data sanitization methods, procedures, equipment, and expertise to comply with standards such as NIST SP 800-88 and DoD 5220.22-M. Simple formatting and quick data deletion, on the other hand, may be cheap. But it also leaves your data vulnerable to data thieves and puts your company at risk of regulatory violations.
More on this topic: Evaluating ITAD Companies and Other Lessons from the Morgan Stanley Data Breach
No one is immune to making mistakes. But in the world of e waste disposal, it can cost you, both in terms of steep fines and negative headlines. Your best safeguard is a knowledgeable, certified partner that can take charge in a jungle of regulations. We are here to help.