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New York Sues PepsiCo Over Plastic Pollution in Buffalo River

CRISIS - Pollution Crises by Martina Igini Americas Nov 17th 20232 mins
New York Sues PepsiCo Over Plastic Pollution in Buffalo River

The plaintiff argues that PepsiCo – the world’s second-largest food company and among the biggest plastic polluters – has failed to warn its consumers about the dangers of single-use plastic.

New York state is suing food and drinks giant PepsiCo and its subsidiary Frito-Lay over plastic pollution in a first-of-its-kind lawsuit that could set a precedent for other cities and states to follow and hold companies accountable for the amount of single-use plastic they produce.

New York Attorney General Letitia James announced the lawsuit on Wednesday in Buffalo, arguing that the company had failed to warn its consumers over the dangers of plastic waste on the environment, freshwater species, and human health. Plastic that enters the river breaks down into smaller pieces known as microplastics or nanoplastics that contaminate not only the river but also public drinking water supplies.

More on the topic: Are Microplastics Harmful And How Can We Avoid Them?

James also accused PepsiCo of misleading its consumers  by claiming that it is working on addressing its plastic pollution problem.

A survey of plastic pollution in the Buffalo River conducted by the attorney general’s office in 2022 found the company to be the “single largest identifiable contributor” of plastic packaging that amassed on the river’s shores every year, with more than 17% share of the waste. The amount of plastic waste traced back to PepsiCo was about three times that of the second-largest contributor, American fast food giant McDonald’s.

According to data published on the company’s website, in 2022 alone, PepsiCo produced approximately 2.6 million metric tons of plastic packaging. Though despite having targets in place to minimise its plastic footprint – such as making 100% of their packaging recyclable, compostable, biodegradable, or reusable by 2025 as well as cutting the use of virgin plastic from non-renewable sources by half by 2030 – the lawsuit argues that the solutions proposed to achieve these goals are “ineffective” and “unattainable” and have “repeatedly failed to materialize.”

Indeed, the plaintiff found that over the last four years, the quantity of virgin plastic used by PepsiCo for its packaging has increased – from 2.2 million metric tons in 2019 to 2.4 million metric tons in 2022.

The suit demands that PepsiCo formulate a plan to clean the Buffalo River and warn its customers about the health and environmental implications associated with its plastic packaging by placing an “adequate warning” on its single-use plastic bottles and food wrappers sold in the Buffalo region.

“No company is too big to ensure that their products do not damage our environment and public health,” James said in a statement. “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.”

Featured image: Flickr/Mike Mozart

You might also like: 10 Companies Called Out For Greenwashing

About the Author

Martina Igini

Martina is the Managing Editor at Earth.Org. She holds two BA degrees, in Translation/Interpreting Studies and Journalism, and a MA in International Development from the University of Vienna. After working at the United Nations Global Communication Department in Vienna, she joined a newspaper in Italy as a reporter before moving to Hong Kong in 2020. Her interests include sustainability and the role of public policy in environmental protection with a focus on developing countries.

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