The New York State Attorney General has set her sights on snack and soda giant PepsiCo in a groundbreaking lawsuit accusing the company of excessive pollution and endangering public health with its single-use plastic products.
Filed in Erie County and announced Wednesday, the suit is among the first in the nation to target a major plastics producer, and seeks to force the company to help clean up contamination and pay for damages caused, in part, by their products along with Buffalo River and in the surrounding region.
It also seeks an order barring the sale of single-use plastics by the company unless they are packaged with warnings detailing the environmental and health hazards they present, state Attorney General Letitia James' office said in a release Wednesday.
"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," James said in the release.
Judith Enck, the president of the advocacy group Beyond Plastics, described the lawsuit as "classic polluter pays," Politico reported.
"When you spill toxic waste on land or in the water, we have laws that require that the polluter pay for the cleanup. This is no different," she said at a Wednesday press conference.
Between 2013 and 2022, about 78% of the waste found by Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper (BNW) was plastic — a "significant amount" of that pollution was easily identified PepsiCo products, the release said.
Of 1,916 pieces of plastic litter collected by BNW in 2022, 17% were allegedly PepsiCo brand. Nationwide, between 2018 and 2022, the organization Break Free From Plastic has alleged that PepsiCo is the main contributor of these plastics, according to the suit.
PepsiCo, which is headquartered in New York State's Westchester County, manufactures at least 85 beverage brands and 25 snack food brands — nearly all of them come in single-use plastic packaging, per the office.
In response to the impending lawsuit, a PepsiCo spokesperson Andrea Foote told Fox News Digital in an email that the company is "serious about plastic reduction and effective recycling" and has been "transparent on [its] journey to reduce use of plastic and accelerate new packaging innovation."
Over the last four years, the suit alleges, the company has "misled the public about the effectiveness of its plastic recycling and its efforts to combat plastic pollution" and reducing the amount of "virgin" — rather than recycled — plastic in its products.
Meanwhile, the company acknowledged that their use of virgin plastics in their packaging increased by 11% in 2022, James wrote.
The office also accuses the company of failing to warn consumers about the health risks posed to human health from its packaging and resulting microplastics in water sources.
"Once ingested, microplastics permeate deep into our bodies, blood and organs, and can even be transferred from the placenta into unborn children," James wrote. "Exposure to microplastics and the chemicals they carry can cause a wide range of adverse health effects, from reproductive dysfunction to inflammation of the intestine and neurotoxic effects."
Microplastics, the office wrote, have been detected in the city of Buffalo's water supply, sourced from Lake Erie less than a mile from the mouth of the Buffalo River. Microplastics have also been detected in fish species in the body of water that are used as food sources locally, James wrote.
BNW Executive Director Jill Jedlicka said the city of Buffalo has "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."
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"We will not sit idly by as our waterways become polluted again, this time from ever-growing single-use plastic pollution," Jedlicka said in the release. "We applaud [the New York State Attorney General's Office] for holding producers accountable for this relentless assault on the environment and local waterways."
Added Foote in the email: "This is a complex issue and requires involvement from a variety of stakeholders, including businesses, municipalities, waste-reduction providers, community leaders and consumers. Success in this effort requires collaboration."
The company, she wrote, has "partnered with these groups, improving recycling infrastructure around the country [and] boosting consumer awareness about the importance of recycling."