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Whole Foods Market Group, Inc. Nationwide RCRA Administrative Settlement

Settlement Overview 

Whole Foods Market owns and operates hundreds of retail grocery stores throughout the United States. These grocery stores are organized and managed by region.

Following settlements with EPA Region 6 covering stores in several southern/southwestern states, Whole Foods Market voluntarily approached EPA to discuss the possibility of entering into a broad-based nationwide settlement agreement for their stores located in all U.S. States and Territories (other than those covered by the Region 6 settlements).

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For purposes of the national settlement, Whole Foods Market voluntarily disclosed to EPA that it may not have consistently made sufficient hazardous waste determinations on all solid waste streams (e.g., discarded consumer products) or complied with some of the “universal waste” standards at all of its stores as required by 40 C.F.R. §§ 262.11 and 273.13 through 273.16.

Common consumer products that have to be handled as hazardous waste if they cannot be restocked or resold include: certain cleaning products, detergents, paints and polishes, batteries, pesticides and fluorescent light bulbs. These items are required to be managed as hazardous waste under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). 

Most, if not all, Whole Foods Market Stores generate 100 kilograms of hazardous waste or less in any given month, and therefore, are considered Conditionally Exempt Small Quantity Generators (CESQGs) pursuant to 40 C.F.R. § 261.5.

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Injunctive Relief

The settlement agreement includes the implementation of an enhanced hazardous waste management system in all of Whole Foods Market’s stores. Although a majority of Whole Foods Market stores may qualify as CESQGs in any given month, the enhanced hazardous waste program implemented by Whole Foods Market generally seeks to satisfy the hazardous waste generator requirements applicable to Small Quantity Generators and, therefore, goes above and beyond the minimum requirements applicable under the law. Whole Foods Market’s compliance provisions under the consent agreement include:

  • Continue to implement an advanced system to properly accumulate and store hazardous waste on-site, including inspections and management of containers. Whole Foods Market began implementing this system in advance of finalizing the settlement agreement with EPA.
  • Continue to implement comprehensive hazardous waste management training at its stores for employees. Whole Foods Market began implementing this training in advance of finalizing the settlement agreement with EPA.
  • Put in place a wide-range of operational changes to ensure compliance with RCRA, including employing advanced technology for hazardous waste identification.
  • Develop and implement standard operating procedures to further assist its stores in implementing the enhanced hazardous waste program.
  • Retain an independent third party auditor to conduct a hazardous waste compliance audit of select stores.

Supplemental Environmental Project

Under the settlement agreement, Whole Foods Market will spend $2.75 million to perform a supplemental environmental project to protect children’s health by replacing older fluorescent lighting fixtures that contain polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in public schools and community centers serving children located in low to moderate income areas. Whole Foods Market will also provide hazardous waste training to school and community center personnel, specifically teaching them about the proper identification, handling and disposal of hazardous wastes located and used in the schools and community centers where the supplemental environmental project is performed. 

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Pollutant Impacts

The injunctive relief is designed to prevent hazardous waste from being improperly handled and disposed of, and to minimize the risk of exposure of waste to workers and others. In addition, the supplemental environmental project will eliminate the exposure to PCBs in schools and community centers serving children, as well as public school/community center employees in communities with environmental justice concerns.

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Health and Environmental Benefits

Although Whole Foods Market’s RCRA violations presented potential harm to public health and the environment through exposure to hazardous wastes, there is no evidence of any actual harm from the violations alleged in the consent agreement.  

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Civil Penalty

Under the settlement, Whole Foods Market will pay a $500,000 civil penalty.

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For more information, contact:

Laura Welles
Waste and Chemical Enforcement Division
Office of Civil Enforcement
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
(202) 564-2754

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