NEW YORK: New York state sued PepsiCo on Wednesday, accusing the beverage and snack food giant of polluting the environment and endangering public health through its single-use plastic bottles, caps and wrappers.
The lawsuit filed in state court in upstate Erie County is among the first by a US state to target a major plastics producer.
State attorney-general Letitia James accused PepsiCo of contributing to a public nuisance by generating a significant share of plastic waste found in and near the upstate Buffalo River, including more than 17% of trash that could be readily traced to specific brands.
She also said the company failed to warn consumers about the potential health and environmental risks of plastics in its more than 100 brands, and misled the public about its efforts to fight plastics pollution.
James said such pollution can enter drinking water after breaking down, contributing to health problems. “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 said in a statement.
PepsiCo did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The complaint said health problems can include early puberty in females, reduced sperm counts, altered functions of reproductive organs, obesity, altered sex-specific behaviours, and increased rates of some types of cancers.
The effects from plastic additives have been observed in mammals, and researchers expect the same effects would be observed in humans, the lawsuit said.
The New York lawsuit also said PepsiCo has deceived consumers by announcing various targets to reduce the amount of non-recycled plastic it uses in packaging, although it has actually increased its usage.
The lawsuit seeks to force the Purchase, New York-based company to stop causing a nuisance, clean up contamination and pay for damage caused by plastic waste.
It also seeks an order barring PepsiCo from selling products in single-use plastic in the Buffalo region without warnings saying the packaging is a potential source of pollution and poses health and environment risks.
In addition to Pepsi cola, PepsiCo’s brands include Cheetos, Cracker Jack, Doritos, Fritos, Gatorade, Lay’s, Lipton, Mountain Dew, Ocean Spray, Quaker, Ruffles and Tostitos.
Environmental advocates called New York’s lawsuit a significant step in the fight against plastic waste across the US that could establish a template for other states, cities or counties that want to pursue similar litigation.
“Not only should other companies be watching this carefully, they should proactively reduce their plastic pollution so they are not subject to similar lawsuits,” said Judith Enck, the president of the advocacy group Beyond Plastics and a US Environmental Protection Agency regional administrator during the Obama administration.
Connecticut and Minnesota have previously filed plastics-related litigation as well, alleging companies falsely and deceptively marketed bags as recyclable when they cannot be recycled in state facilities.
California in 2022 announced it was conducting an investigation into the fossil fuel and petrochemical industries’ role in plastic pollution.