Attorney General
Mallard ducks feeding in a mass of floating waste.

PepsiCo Faces New York Legal Challenge Over Buffalo River Plastic Pollution

November 28, 2023
2 mins read

New York State Attorney General Letitia James filed a lawsuit against PepsiCo, accusing the company of contributing to a public nuisance by generating a significant amount of plastic waste found in and around the Buffalo River in upstate New York. More than 17% of the trash found in the river could be traced back to specific brands, with PepsiCo being responsible for a significant portion. The single-use plastic packaging, including food wrappers and plastic bottles, has contaminated the drinking water supply for the city of Buffalo.

PepsiCo packages at least 85 different beverages and 25 snack foods in single-use plastic containers. Large quantities of microplastics from snack food wrappers and polymers in PepsiCo’s plastic bottles and bottle caps have been found in the Buffalo River. Attorney General Letitia James criticized PepsiCo’s “misleading” statements on the environment and called their plastic waste a scourge on waterways.

In a statement, Assemblymember Jon D. Rivera said, “PepsiCo must play a role in environmental cleanup due to the products they create, which contribute to plastic pollution, CO2 emissions, and single-use waste. ” The civil suit seeks a finding that PepsiCo contributed to a “public nuisance” in the Buffalo River, the imposition of financial penalties and compensatory damages on the company, and an order that PepsiCo cease the sale of single-use plastic on goods that do not warn of the environmental ills.

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During their 2022 survey of 13 sites along the river, investigators found 1,916 pieces of plastic trash that had an identifiable brand name. More than 17 percent of them, the highest amount by far, came from PepsiCo. This exceeds even the McDonald’s plastic trash, which came in second place.

The lawsuit revealed that microplastics have been discovered in fish species that are known to inhabit Lake Erie and the Buffalo River, as well as in Buffalo’s drinking water supply. Microplastics are tiny particles produced by the breakdown of plastics. Exposure to these chemicals can cause a variety of harmful health effects. The lawsuit claims that the presence of microplastics in both humans and fish is a significant danger to public health and the state of New York and that the plastics cause widespread harm. Researchers have observed the altered functioning of reproductive organs and higher cancer rates in animals exposed to plastic additives and microplastics, and believe that humans could also face similar effects.

According to a spokesperson from PepsiCo, the company is committed to reducing plastic usage and improving recycling efforts. They have been working with various stakeholders across the country to promote recycling and increase awareness about its importance. Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown said, “We not only strive to be good to each other, but we want to be good to the environment around us. I thank Attorney General James for taking bold actions to protect our environment against threats.” Despite past pledges to reduce plastic usage, a lawsuit claims that the company has not made significant strides in this area, and has misled the public about their efforts.“We must do everything in our power to protect our natural space and waterways so that they can be enjoyed by future generations,” mentioned Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz. 

The lawsuit acknowledges the company’s statements about taking action to reduce plastic pollution but argues that PepsiCo has repeatedly fallen short of these promises. Additionally, the suit alleges that the company has not made significant efforts to explore alternatives to single-use plastics in the New York market. While PepsiCo has announced refillable and returnable glass and plastic programs in international markets like Mexico and Germany, the company has not made similar efforts in New York. Jill Jedlicka, Executive Director of Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper asserted, “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.” 

The lawsuit against PepsiCo seeks to force the company to stop causing a nuisance, clean up contamination, and pay for damages caused by plastic waste. In addition, it calls for an order prohibiting the sales of single-use plastic in the Buffalo region without warnings describing the packaging’s potential to cause pollution and pose health and environmental risks. Environmentalists view this as a landmark lawsuit that could have far-reaching implications.

Farheen Memon

I am a writer interested in exploring and shedding light on global issues. Lately, I've been concentrating on environmental problems, discovering effective solutions, and making conscious choices.

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