• Plastic waste collected in April 2022 from the Erie Basin Marina in the City of Buffalo, including Gatorade bottles and Lay’s potato chip packaging produced by PepsiCo.
    Plastic waste collected in April 2022 from the Erie Basin Marina in the City of Buffalo, including Gatorade bottles and Lay’s potato chip packaging produced by PepsiCo.

As global public attention continues to hone in on single-use plastic, the state of New York has filed a lawsuit against PepsiCo for “harming the public and the environment” with its single-use plastic packaging.

The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) said it found that single-use plastic produced by PepsiCo contributes significantly to high levels of plastic pollution along the Buffalo River, pollution that is contaminating drinking water and harming wildlife.

The lawsuit alleges that PepsiCo substantially causes public harm in Buffalo, has failed to warn consumers about the potential health and environmental risks of its single-use plastic packaging, and misleads consumers and the public about its efforts to combat plastic pollution. Through this lawsuit, Attorney General Letitia James said she “seeks to require PepsiCo to end practices that threaten the environment and the public and to obtain disgorgement, civil penalties, and restitution for the damage inflicted upon New York’s communities and environment”.

“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,” she commented. “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.”

PepsiCo, which is headquartered in New York state, manufactures, produces, and packages at least 85 different beverage brands and 25 snack food brands that predominantly come in single-use plastic containers. In 2022, OAG conducted a survey of all types of waste collected at 13 sites along the Buffalo River and its tributaries and said it found that PepsiCo’s single-use plastic packaging was the most significant. Of the 1916 pieces of plastic rubbish collected with an identifiable brand, over 17 per cent were produced by PepsiCo, which was three times more abundant than the next highest contributor. 

From 2013 to 2022, approximately 78 per cent of waste collected by Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper volunteers in the Buffalo River watershed was reportedly plastic. Single-use plastic packaging for food and beverages, including food wrappers, plastic bottles, and bottle caps of the types produced by PepsiCo were found in significant amounts every year, the OAG claims.

The lawsuit alleges that PepsiCo has significantly contributed to, and continues to contribute to, the existence of a public nuisance that injures the community living in the city of Buffalo and the environment. The OAG says that PepsiCo has also misled the public about the effectiveness of its plastic recycling and its efforts to combat plastic pollution. For example, it claims that PepsiCo’s statements have misled consumers and the public by creating the impression that the company was making meaningful progress toward reducing the use of virgin plastic in its packaging but says no such progress is being made. On the contrary, the OAG alleges that for the last four years, PepsiCo’s use of virgin plastic has increased year by year. James also says that PepsiCo failed to warn its consumers about the risk of harm to human health and the environment posed by its packaging, alleging that this violates New York General Business and Executive Law.

Attorney General James is asking the court to require PepsiCo to “cease contributing to the public nuisance it is causing in the Buffalo region, remediate the contamination it caused, and identify and implement measures to reduce the quantity of PepsiCo’s plastic packaging entering the Buffalo River”. The lawsuit further seeks to stop PepsiCo from selling or distributing any product in the Buffalo region in single-use plastic packaging that does not contain an adequate warning. The lawsuit also seeks disgorgement, civil penalties, and restitution. 

“We must do everything in our power to protect our natural space and waterways so that they can be enjoyed by future generations,” said Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz. “Single-use plastic packaging has caused major problems for our environment and the chain of life in and around the Great Lakes, including our beloved Lake Erie. Taking action against those who pollute our environment is the only way to confront the serious challenges facing our community as a whole.”

“Our Buffalo community fought for over 50 years to secure hundreds of millions of dollars to clean up toxic pollution, improve habitat, and restore communities around the Buffalo River,” said Jill Jedlicka, executive director of Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper. “As a Great Lakes city that has been oppressed for too long by the environmental damage left from our industrial hangover, we will not sit idly by as our waterways become polluted again, this time from ever-growing single-use plastic pollution. Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper has coordinated annual shoreline sweeps for over 20 years, and single-use plastic bottles and wrappers constitute the majority of the items we collect.”

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