December 10, 2023

PepsiCo is facing legal trouble for its polluting packaging in one US state.

New York Attorney General Letitia James is suing the food and beverage giant accountable “for harming the public and the environment” by littering the shores of the Buffalo River with single-use plastic packaging like that used in Cheetos packets and Gatorade bottle caps.

Microplastics—those with a diameter smaller than 5 mm—have been detected in the city of Buffalo’s drinking water supply which can cause a wide range of adverse health effects, “including early puberty in females, reduced sperm counts, altered functions of reproductive organs, obesity, altered sex-specific behaviors, and increased rates of some types of cancers.”

Besides exacerbating a public nuisance, PepsiCo has also “misled the public about the effectiveness of its plastic recycling and its efforts to combat plastic pollution,” James claims. The company is nowhere near meeting the lofty plastic waste reduction promises it has made.

The lawsuit asks PepsiCo to cease polluting as it does in the Buffalo region— even stopping selling or distributing any product in the region “in single-use plastic packaging that does not contain an adequate warning”—to remedy the contamination, as well as pay disgorgement, civil penalties, and restitution.

PepsiCo’s plastic problem, by the digits

85 and 25: Different beverage and snack food brands respectively owned by PepsiCo “that predominantly come in single-use plastic containers,” as per James

17%: Share of the 1,916 pieces of plastic trash collected with an identifiable brand in a 2022 survey of 13 waste collection sites along the Buffalo River by the attorney general’s office, suggesting PepsiCo’s single-use plastic was the most rampant. It was three times more abundant than the next highest contributor, McDonald’s, which produced less than 6% of the recovered waste.

11%: Increase in virgin plastic use by PepsiCo in 2022, year-over-year—the aim of a 20% reduction by 2030 is feeling far off

100%: Products PepsiCo has pledged to aim to make “recyclable, compostable, biodegradable or reusable” by 2025. In 2022, 88% of the packaging met this criteria, up one point from the year prior.

Quotable: Why Letitia James is suing Pepsi

“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. No one should have to worry about plastics in their drinking water, plastic garbage littering their scenic riverfront, or plastic pollution harming wildlife. I will never hesitate to take on major corporations that put the health and safety of everyday New Yorkers and our planet at risk.”

—New York Attorney General Letitia James

One more thing: Pepsi the polluter

This notorious allegation is not new. Alongside rival Coca-Cola and Nestle, PepsiCo has been considered among the worst plastic polluters in the world for a while now. In August 2021, it showed up in the “dirty dozen” list of serial beach plastic polluters in the UK.

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