The lawsuit, filed this month by Attorney General of New York Letitia James, argued that “single-use plastic beverage bottles, bottle caps, and snack food wrappers” manufactured and sold by PepsiCo have collected along the shores of the Buffalo River.
“PepsiCo is the single largest identifiable contributor to this plastic waste,” the lawsuit continued.
The complaint alleges that PepsiCo broke state laws by not warning consumers about the potential risks of plastic pollution, while also misleading the public about actions taken to reduce its impact on the environment.
In light of these accusations, New York state said it is seeking “declaratory, injunctive and monetary relief”.
In response, a PepsiCo spokesperson told Food Manufacture that it is “serious about plastic reduction and effective recycling” and that the firm has been “transparent” in its communications.
“This is a complex issue and requires involvement from a variety of stakeholders, including businesses, municipalities, waste-reduction providers, community leaders and consumers,” they added.
“PepsiCo has been working in New York to address the needs of communities, including advocating for New York bottle bill improvements and extended producer responsibility bills. We have worked effectively with a variety of communities across the country and remain committed to doing so.”
The news comes not long after it was announced that Coca-Cola, Danone and Nestlé had been reported to the EU over recycling claims made on bottled water labels.
‘Greenwashing cases are on the rise’
Reacting to the news, Elaina Bailes, committee member of the London Solicitors Litigation Association (LSLA), said that environmental activists have held “scepticism” about PepsiCo’s “green promises for some time”.
"This news serves as a warning that companies can get into serious hot water if they make false or misleading ESG claims,” Bailes explained.
Looking at the UK, she said that public bodies taking action against companies for pollution is not seen as frequently.
Bailes elaborated: “PepsiCo also operates across 10 UK sites, so many people will be wondering whether a similar case will arise here too. Although greenwashing claims are less common in the UK courts (activity in this area has largely been on the regulatory side, with the Advertising Standards Agency being particularly active in fining companies), in theory similar nuisance claims like this one could be brought in the UK if there were evidence that pollution could be traced back to PepsiCo’s activities.
“Ultimately, greenwashing cases are on the rise, and so companies like PepsiCo must be increasingly live to the litigation risk of their environmental activities – in the US, UK and across the globe."