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Target Dumping Settlement: Did We Get Fooled by Clever PR?

Target was touting its buy-back program while quietly paying a $22.5 million settlement for illegal dumping of hazardous waste. Did we get fooled?

On Friday, we wrote about the efforts of retailers like Target and RadioShack to buy back used electronics with the help of sites like Gazelle and NextWorth. As we understood it, the program would allow people to make a little extra money off electronic inventory they didn't realize they own while also keeping e-waste out of landfills a little while longer. However, as commenter "JB" informed us, the story was published at the same time that Target was ordered to pay $22.5 million for illegal dumping of hazardous waste materials.

Violations included improper storage, transportation and disposal of bleach, paint, pesticides, batteries, lightbulbs and other hazardous materials. Prosecutors accused the retail giant of cutting corners for the bottom line. Chemicals returned by customers or found to be defective were poured down the drain, tossed into dumpsters and trucked to landfills not equipped for hazardous waste.

Stores also kept incompatible and combustible liquids like ammonia and bleach side-by-side on shelves and poured them into dumpsters mixed together, creating fire and other safety hazards, prosecutors said.

Target also allegedly fobbed off even more waste in bulk donations to local charities, including the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, which received more than 5,000 pounds of unusable, flammable and toxic products in 2008, prosecutors said.


These two stories aren't necessarily related, but it is worth asking whether we should have faith in a buy-back and e-waste recycling program run by a company that's illegally dumping chemicals. Where, you have to wonder, will the unsold phones end up? Let's hope the influence of Nextworth and Gazelle is positive.

There's also the question of whether we fell for some crafty PR—the timing was certainly convenient. We found the buy-back story on USA Today (via PSFK), and frankly didn't know about the dumping settlement. USA Today ran the buy-back piece on Wednesday, two days before Friday's Los Angeles Times story on the settlement; it's perhaps fitting that the term for putting out a press release on a Friday is known as taking the bad news out with the garbage (or the Friday news dump).

Of course no company is perfect, but we certainly don't want to be part of a spin cycle that ignores big, substantive stories.

Thanks to JB for keeping us honest.

Photo (cc) by Flickr user j.reed

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