New York state sues PepsiCo over plastic pollution in river

By John Mercury November 17, 2023

New York state has sued PepsiCo for allegedly polluting one of its rivers with plastic bottles and wrappers.

The lawsuit accuses the soft drinks company and its Frito-Lay subsidiaries of creating a public nuisance by the mass production of the single-use items, some of which inevitably fall or blow into the Buffalo River when they are discarded.

The legal action alleges PepsiCo has hurt the environment, claiming it is partly responsible for litter that ends up in water supplying the city of Buffalo with drinking water.

The lawsuit was filed in the state’s Supreme Court by attorney general Letitia James who said: “No company is too big to ensure that their products do not damage our environment and public health.

“All New Yorkers have a basic right to clean water, yet PepsiCo’s irresponsible packaging and marketing endanger Buffalo’s water supply, environment, and public health.”

The attorney general’s office noted that a 2022 survey named PepsiCo as the single largest identifiable contributor to plastic waste in the Buffalo River.

It found that of 1,916 pieces of plastic waste containing an identifiable brand, 17.1% were produced by PepsiCo. McDonald’s was a distant second.

The lawsuit links the plastic waste to the prevalence of microplastics, which are pieces less than 5mm in length and could be harmful to human health if ingested.

Ms James, a Democrat, wants PepsiCo to warn customers about the potential health and environmental risks of its packaging.

New York attorney general Letitia James. Pic: AP
Image:
New York attorney general Letitia James. Pic: AP

The lawsuit also wants the court to force the company to develop a plan to keep its packaging out of the Buffalo River, and seeks financial penalties and restitution.

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PepsiCo, which is headquartered in Westchester County in New York, said in a statement that it was serious about “plastic reduction and effective recycling”.

It did not directly comment on the lawsuit’s claim that it was legally responsible for keeping litter out of the Buffalo River.

Last week, Coca-Cola, Danone and Nestle were accused of misleading claims about the number of recycled plastics they use.

Lawyers complained to the European Commission that the firms’ claims that their single-use plastic bottles are either 100% recycled or 100% recyclable bottles aren’t accurate.

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