Plastics Recycling Update

PepsiCo faces lawsuit from New York State attorney general

A lawsuit from New York State Attorney General Letitia James makes a number of allegations against PepsiCo, including failure to warn the public about the environmental impact of its products. | Pixinoo/Shutterstock

New York State’s attorney general is the latest to launch a lawsuit against a major brand over plastic, this time focused on pollution.

This most recent lawsuit, brought by New York State Attorney General Letitia James, alleges that PepsiCo is “harming the public and the environment with its single-use plastic packaging,” according to a press release from the Office of the New York State Attorney General. 

The suit makes allegations of public nuisance, failure to warn, and violating New York general business law 349 Article 22-A, which prohibits deceptive acts or practices in business. It also alleges a violation of executive law Article 63, which covers “repeated or persistent illegality in the carrying on, conducting or transaction of business.”

Frito-Lay and Frito-Lay North America are also named in the suit, as subsidiaries of PepsiCo. PepsiCo did not respond to a request for comment by publication deadline. 

Other big brands have faced plastic-related lawsuits in recent years, usually focused on labeling and recyclability claims. Those brands include Reynolds Consumer Products, which reached a $4 million settlement in a case over the marketing of its recycling bags. Keurig Green Mountain in February reached a class-action settlement for $10 million over labeling. A collection of brands and TerraCycle faced a similar labeling lawsuit in 2021, which they settled. 

Attorney General James’ office said it found that single-use plastic produced by PepsiCo “contributes significantly to high levels of plastic pollution along the Buffalo River,” which contaminates drinking water and harms wildlife with microplastics and chemicals. 

A 2022 study found that of 1,916 pieces of plastic collected from the watershed with an identifiable brand, over 17% were PepsiCo, making it three times more abundant than the next highest contributing brand, McDonald’s. 

PepsiCo’s culpability

The lawsuit notes that “in the face of PepsiCo’s failure to abate the harms caused by plastic pollution, the public has undertaken costly measures to reduce the quantity of plastic pollution in and around the Buffalo River.”

In addition, the lawsuit alleges that PepsiCo failed to warn consumers about the potential health and environmental risks of its packaging and mislead consumers about its efforts to combat plastic pollution. 

The press release noted that PepsiCo created “the impression that the company was making meaningful progress toward reducing the use of non-recycled (virgin) plastic in its packaging, but no such progress is being made.” 

“On the contrary, for the last four years, PepsiCo’s use of virgin plastic has increased year by year. In 2022 alone, PepsiCo acknowledged that its use of virgin plastic in its plastic packaging increased by 11%,” the press release stated. 

James is asking the courts 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,” the press release added. 

James noted that she will “never hesitate to take on major corporations that put the health and safety of everyday New Yorkers and our planet at risk.”

A version of this story appeared in Resource Recycling on Nov. 27.

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