Unlock the Editor’s Digest for free
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
New York state is suing food and drinks giant PepsiCo for plastic waste pollution, the latest lawsuit to try to hold companies to account over their environmental impact.
New York attorney-general Letitia James has demanded that the soft-drink maker reduce the quantity of packaging released into the Buffalo River and pay for the damage caused by microplastics to people and the environment.
“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 on Wednesday.
Of the 1,916 pieces of plastic trash collected from the Buffalo River in a survey conducted by the attorney-general’s office last year, the most prominent producer they identified by far was PepsiCo, with more than 17 per cent share of the waste. Fast-food chain McDonald’s followed with 5.7 per cent, and candy maker Hershey’s accounted for 4.2 per cent.
The filing against PepsiCo, the world’s second-largest food company, is one in a swell of lawsuits brought by local authorities, consumer protection groups and non-profits against corporations about their impact on the environment and climate change.
Earlier this year the state of California sued several of the world’s biggest oil companies, including ExxonMobil, Shell and BP, claiming they had misled consumers by suppressing information about the adverse effects of burning fossil fuels.
Last week European consumer rights groups filed a legal complaint against Coca-Cola, Nestlé and Danone for violating consumer protection laws with “misleading” recycling claims.
Regulators in the US and EU have been cracking down on misleading claims made by companies and brands, known as “greenwashing”. The US Federal Trade Commission, a consumer regulator, is considering updating its Green Guides to make it easier to bring claims against companies for deceptive marketing, while the EU is set to ban claims such as “climate neutral” and “eco” if they are deemed inaccurate.
In Wednesday’s court filing, the attorney-general said PepsiCo had failed to warn consumers about the impact of single-use plastic on human health and “misled” the public about its efforts to combat plastic pollution, while simultaneously increasing its use of virgin plastic by 11 per cent in 2022.
A US-wide study by environmental non-profit Break Free From Plastic —which assessed 2,125,415 items of plastic waste from 2,373 separate collections from 2018 to 2022 — consistently documented PepsiCo as the biggest or second-biggest producer of waste.
Pepsi said in a statement that it was “serious about plastic reduction and effective recycling, and has been transparent in our journey to reduce use of plastic and accelerate new packaging innovation”.
This was a “complex issue” that required involvement from businesses, municipalities, waste managers and consumers, it said, adding that it had worked with groups around the country to improve recycling infrastructure and boost consumer awareness about recycling.
At a Fortune event earlier this week, Pepsi chief executive Ramon Laguarta touted the company’s commitment to reducing plastic waste. “If you’ve got to address climate, you’ve got to address the plastic waste problem in this world,” he said.
Read the full article here