(WNY News Now) – New York Attorney General Letitia James has filed a landmark lawsuit against PepsiCo Inc., accusing the beverage giant of causing significant harm to the public and the environment through its single-use plastic packaging along the Buffalo River. The lawsuit alleges that PepsiCo’s practices contribute to widespread pollution, contaminate drinking water, and endanger wildlife, prompting the Attorney General to seek remedies for the damage inflicted on New York communities.
Buffalo – In a groundbreaking move, New York Attorney General Letitia James has taken legal action against PepsiCo Inc., headquartered in New York state, for its alleged role in environmental degradation and public health risks associated with single-use plastic packaging. The lawsuit contends that PepsiCo’s plastic containers are a major contributor to pollution along the Buffalo River, causing harm to both the ecosystem and the well-being of local residents.
PepsiCo’s Plastic Problem: PepsiCo, a major player in the beverage and snack food industry, produces a vast array of products packaged predominantly in single-use plastic containers. The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) found, through a 2022 survey, that PepsiCo’s single-use plastic packaging comprised over 17 percent of the identifiable plastic trash collected along the Buffalo River and its tributaries. This exceeded the contributions of any other identifiable source and was three times more abundant than the next highest contributor.
The Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper’s volunteer efforts from 2013 to 2022 revealed that approximately 78 percent of the waste collected in the Buffalo River watershed was plastic. The persistence of single-use plastic packaging in the environment poses a threat, as it breaks down into dangerous microplastics, contributing to the documented presence of microplastics from PepsiCo’s products in the Buffalo River.
A nationwide study by Break Free From Plastic highlighted PepsiCo as a consistent top producer of branded plastic trash in the United States from 2018 to 2022. Microplastics from snack food wrappers and polymers used in PepsiCo’s plastic bottles and caps have been identified in the Buffalo River, raising concerns about the broader impacts on public health and the environment.
Public Health and Environmental Threats: The lawsuit emphasizes the wide-ranging threats posed by plastic pollution along the Buffalo River, affecting both public health and the environment. Microplastics, found in the river, have been detected in Buffalo’s drinking water supply, raising concerns about potential health implications for residents. Fish species in Lake Erie and the Buffalo River, crucial food sources for the local community, have also been found to contain microplastics.
Studies reveal that the ingestion of microplastics can lead to adverse health effects, including reproductive dysfunction, inflammation of the intestine, and neurotoxic effects. Beyond human health, plastic pollution has negative impacts on various species in freshwater and terrestrial habitats, with at least 206 freshwater species affected by ingestion or entanglement in plastic.
OAG Legal Claims: The lawsuit alleges that PepsiCo has significantly contributed to a public nuisance that injures the Buffalo community and the environment. Additionally, the company is accused of misleading the public about the effectiveness of its plastic recycling and efforts to combat plastic pollution. Despite claims of progress, PepsiCo’s use of virgin plastic has increased each year for the past four years.
Attorney General James charges PepsiCo with violating New York General Business Law § 349 and New York Executive Law § 63(12) by failing to warn consumers about the potential harm posed by its packaging. The lawsuit seeks court intervention to require PepsiCo to cease contributing to the public nuisance, remediate contamination, and implement measures to reduce plastic packaging in the Buffalo River. Remedial actions include adequate warnings on single-use plastic packaging and restrictions on selling such products in the region.
“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 C. 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. I applaud Attorney General James for leading the way for New York state so that we can protect all of our residents, and I join her commitment to preserving and maintaining healthy waterways.”
“We’re the city of good neighbors,” said Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown. “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. I also thank her for her partnership in my administration’s goal to create a greener and climate friendly city.”
“Thank you, Attorney General James, for always standing up for what is right,” said State Senator Tim Kennedy. “By filing this lawsuit to hold PepsiCo accountable for the environmental damage they have caused, the Attorney General is once again prioritizing the people and natural resources of Western New York. Waste like PepsiCo’s plastic packaging has contaminated our drinking water and harmed our wildlife. We must prioritize stopping pollution at all costs to keep Buffalo and Western New York safe.”
“Plastic trash is unsightly, but more importantly it is an environmental detriment — it negatively impacts wildlife, does not biodegrade in landfills, and contaminates our drinking water and ecosystems,” said Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes. “I applaud Attorney General James for pursuing the most persistent violators in the name of protecting our environment.”
“Today, we are telling PepsiCo a simple message: Western New York is not a dumping ground,” said Assemblymember Jon D. Rivera. “We have made great strides in protecting and cleaning up local waterways, and we’re moving on from our industrial past to a new, blue economy so that residents can enjoy places like the Buffalo River for generations to come. However, we can’t remediate the environment without acknowledging the negligence of large corporations that continue to place profits above people. 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. My district boasts one of the largest shorelines along a body of water in New York, and I know how much the local watershed plays a role in the health of both individuals and the entire region. I thank Attorney General Letitia James and her office for standing up for Western New York, and for pushing for PepsiCo to pay for the damage it has done to the community.”
“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. We are pleased to be able to contribute citizen science data to the actions taken by the New York State Attorney General, and we applaud her for holding producers accountable for this relentless assault on our environment and local waterways.”
In addition to these remedies, the lawsuit calls for disgorgement, civil penalties, and restitution. Attorney General James asserts that no company, regardless of size, should compromise the environment and public health, emphasizing the right of all New Yorkers to clean water and a safe environment.