Waste Management, Inc. articles in Multinational Monitor


Busting the Trash Trust

THE NATION'S TWO largest garbage hauling companies, Waste Management, Inc. (WMI) and Browning-Ferris Industries, Inc. (BFI), recently paid $50 million to settle a lawsuit in which they were accused of conspiring to fix prices across the United States. Cumberland Farms and six other companies filed the suit more than three years ago in a Pennsylvania federal district court on behalf of the two waste haulers' approximately 500,000 customers nationwide. It is the first case to accuse the two multinational trash disposal corporations of anti-trust violations on a national scale, although both have a history of convictions and fines for regional price-fixing and other illegal activities [see "BFI: The Sludge of the Waste Industry," Multinational Monitor, June 1990]. This is the "first time the garbage industry's overall pattern of racketeering has been pieced together," Jonathan Hutson of Citizen Action, a national public interest group, told Multinational Monitor. The companies, however, dismiss the plaintiffs' claims of a nationwide conspiracy, and "vigorously deny" that the agreement is an admission of any wrongdoing. The settlement followed the failure of the defendants' motion for dismissal of the case. When the court ruled that there was sufficient evidence for the trial to proceed, the corporations agreed to the $50 million payment "to avoid the expenses and uncertainty" of a trial, says Browning-Ferris. Waste Management Vice President J. Steven Bergerson adds that the settlement was reached "to protect the company against suits arising from old investigations." Waste industry observers such as Brian Lipsett of the Citizen's Clearinghouse for Hazardous Wastes see the payment as a validation of the plaintiffs' accusations. "It's clear to me that they settled to avoid a finding of guilt, because the evidence was so strong," Lipsett says. Critics argue that the companies settled to prevent public disclosure of their criminal activities. The settlement will effectively bury the numerous documents and depositions introduced by plaintiffs in the class-action lawsuit. "These [plaintiffs'] documents may never be seen by the public," says Hutson. "This settlement shows just how far the companies will go to keep the lid on the seamy side of the business." Hutson points to the companies' repeated convictions and fines as evidence of the necessity of laws barring lawbreaking corporations from receiving government contracts [see "Crime Doesn't Pay," Multinational Monitor, May 1990]. "This [settlement] gives citizens' groups energy to press for 'bad boy' laws nationwide," says Hutson. "Ultimately that will be the most effective deterrent to corporate crime." -Nadav Savio

The Front; Jan/Feb 1991 issue

The 10 Worst Corporations of 1989


Criminal Recidivist Waste Management Inc., (WMI) the largest waste dumper in the U.S., is also a repeat offender. Last year, its criminal record became so offensive that the Environmental Grantmakers Association (EGA), a coalition of foundations which gives money to environmental groups, began giving serious consideration to a proposal to not allow for-profit corporations to join its board. This move was precipitated by an attempt by Waste Management Inc. to become an EGA member. EGA consists of 90 foundations that fund national public policy and grassroots groups working for environmental protection. Since 1987, the Association has met to share information and ideas about issues and projects. Waste Management's presence at EGA meetings since 1988 created controversy within the group and led to the December 1989 vote on corporate membership. Waste Management is the largest publicly held waste disposal corporation in the United States. In March of 1989, California Waste Management, a subsidiary, pleaded no contest in the largest criminal antitrust case in California history, paying a record $1 million fine. Waste Management of Florida pleaded no contest to price fixing in Florida's Dade and Broward counties and was slapped with a $1 million federal fine in January 1988. Waste Management also pleaded guilty in October 1987 to conspiring to fix prices in the Toledo, Ohio area with Browning- Ferris Industries. And in May 1989, the U.S. EPA fined Chemical Waste Management, a WMI subsidiary, a record $4.5 million for improperly burning PCBs at a Chicago incinerator. Those opposed to WMI admittance to EGA argued that Association members fund national and grassroots groups who undertake a myriad of environmental projects, and many of these environmental groups oppose the building of polluting disposal facilities, advocate toxic use reduction and waste prevention and encourage communities to reduce solid waste, all goals that conflict with WMI's interests. "The presence of WMI in such a funding community raises disturbing questions about the kind of information the corporation will obtain and about WMl's potential influence on the opinions and decisions of grantmakers," said Peter Bahouth, executive director of Greenpeace USA. "It also grants legitimacy to a corporation sorely in need of a positive environmental reputation."

The 10 Worst Corporations of 1989 (full article)

Names in the News: Waste Mismanagement

CHEMICAL WASTE MANAGEMENT INC. (CWM), a subsidiary of Waste Management Inc. (WMI), admitted criminal guilt in connection with its operations under the Superfund Law. The company agreed to an $11.6 million criminal, civil and administrative settlement in October, in a Scranton, Pennslyvania U.S. District Court, for violations associated with the cleanup of the Lackawanna Refuse Superfund Site. The settlement is the largest ever agreed to under the Superfund law.

WMI is the largest U.S. hazardous waste company, operating hazardous waste disposal facilities nationwide. WMI paid $8.1 million in fines for alleged environmental violations last year and $5.4 million in 1990. CWM was hired to move 60,000 tons of contaminated garbage and more than 8,500 drums of hazardous waste at the Lackawanna site in 1987. The company began the job in May 1988 and completed it in November 1988.

The government charged that CWM employees knowingly and intentionally crushed numerous drums containing hazardous substances in order to speed up the project. The hazardous substances, including various solvents, paints, thinners, sludges, organic acids and toxic metals, leaked out of the drums into the environment and contributed to the further contamination of the site. CWM failed to report this activity in violation of the Superfund law.

"Unfortunate mistakes were made by a few of our people while cleaning up the Lackawanna site four years ago," says D.P. Payne, president of CWM. "Mistakes like these are costly and cannot be tolerated by the company." CWM fired three of the employees involved and has suspended three others.

- Ben Lilliston

Names in the News

Return to the Waste Management Inc. Corporate Profile
Return to the Corporate Accountability Project

Last modified: 17 March 1998