ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York state sued PepsiCo on Wednesday in an effort to hold the soda-and-snack food giant partly responsible for litter that winds up in bodies of water supplying the city of Buffalo with drinking water.
The lawsuit, filed in state Supreme Court by Attorney General Letitia James, accuses the company and its Frito-Lay subsidiaries of creating a public nuisance by making a huge number of plastic bottles and wrappers, some of which inevitably fall or blow into the Buffalo River when they are discarded.
Simply by making so much plastic, the company is hurting the environment, the lawsuit argues.
“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 a statement.
PepsiCo said in a statement that it was serious about “plastic reduction and effective recycling.” It didn't directly comment on the lawsuit's claim that it was legally responsible for keeping garbage out of the Buffalo River.
PepsiCo, which is headquartered in New York, produces and packages at least 85 different beverage brands including Gatorade and Pepsi products, and at least 25 snack food brands that mostly come in plastic containers meant to be thrown away or recycled once they are empty.
In past years, the company has repeatedly pledged that it would make meaningful strides to reduce its use of plastics.
The lawsuit alleges that the opposite is happening, and that PepsiCo misled the public about its efforts to combat plastic pollution.
Litter from many sources end up in the Buffalo River, but the attorney general's office said a 2022 survey named PepsiCo as the single largest identifiable contributor to its plastic waste. Of the 1,916 pieces of plastic waste containing an identifiable brand, 17.1% were produced by PepsiCo, according to the survey. McDonald's came in a distant second, the lawsuit said.
Researchers say that some discarded plastic breaks down into tiny particles, called microplastics, which are small enough to be ingested. Microplastics have been found in Lake Erie, which supplies Buffalo's drinking water, as well as in fish species that are known to inhabit the lake, according to the lawsuit.
The Buffalo River, which empties into Lake Erie, was once considered one of the most polluted rivers in the United States, though restoration efforts begun in 1989 have been restoring its ecosystem.
James, a Democrat, wants PepsiCo to warn customers about the potential health and environmental risks of its packaging. It also wants the court to force the company to develop a plan to keep its packaging out of the Buffalo River.
The lawsuit also seeks financial penalties and restitution.
“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, in a statement. “We will not sit idly by as our waterways become polluted again, this time from ever-growing single-use plastic pollution.”