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Environment & Energy Report

Coke, Pepsi Sued Over ‘Staggering’ Plastic Pollution (1)

Feb. 27, 2020, 3:48 PMUpdated: Feb. 27, 2020, 6:56 PM

Pepsi, Coca-Cola, and eight other companies are misleading the public about the costs of plastic pollution and refusing to switch to more sustainable materials to reap higher profits, an environmental group says in a new lawsuit filed in a California Superior Court.

The companies’ actions are a public nuisance, negligent, and constitute a failure to warn over the impact of plastic packaging to oceans, coasts, and marine life, according to the lawsuit filed Wednesday by Earth Island Institute in the California Superior Court for San Mateo County.

The lawsuit says the companies are also violating the California Consumer Legal Remedies Act by saying their products have certain benefits and are of a certain quality, which they aren’t.

“Fundamentally, the lawsuit seeks to hold corporations accountable for their share of plastic pollution and their claims that plastic packaging is recyclable,” said Earth Island General Counsel Sumona Majumdar in a press release.

“There is a staggering 150 million metric tons of plastic in the marine environment,” according to the lawsuit, which says plastic is estimated to outweigh fish in the ocean by 2050.

Earth Island says recycling facilities in the U.S. can’t process the sheer volume of products from Coke, Pepsi, and other companies that they receive on an annual basis. The lawsuit says there is no demand for recycled plastic due to the availability of cheap materials to make “virgin plastic.”

Earth Island says the cost of cleaning California’s beaches, informing the public about plastic and aiding marine life that has been choked, poisoned, or starved by plastic has grown exponentially in recent years.

The group says much of the plastic labeled as “recyclable” is false and misleading due to the inability of consumers to access facilities that will actually recycle the companies’ products.

Also, by convincing consumers the solution to the plastic problem is recycling, the lawsuit says companies have externalized the cost of their product sales and production system to the public.

“This is the first lawsuit directly to take on these plastic peddlers who for years have spread the fake narrative that their products can be recycled when they know in many cases this is simply not true,” said Josh Floum, president of Earth Island’s Board of Directors, in a press release.

Crystal Geyser Co., Clorox Co., Nestle USA Inc., Mars Inc., Danone North America, Mondelez International Inc., Colgate-Palmolive Co., Procter & Gamble Co., and Does 1-25 were also named in the lawsuit.

Cause of Action: Negligence, public nuisance, breach of warranty, California Consumer Legal Remedies Act, strict liability.

Relief: Compensatory damages, an order that the companies refrain from marketing products as recyclable and corrective advertising, attorneys’ fees and costs.

Response: “America’s beverage companies are already taking action to address the issue by reducing our use of new plastic, investing to increase the collection of our bottles so they can be remade into new bottles as intended, and collaborating with legislators and third-party experts to achieve meaningful policy resolutions,” said a spokesperson for the American Beverage Association, which represents Coke, Pepsi and others in the non-alcoholic beverage industry.

“As a general policy, we don’t provide comment on active litigation,” a Mars spokesperson said.

Attorneys: Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy LLP is representing Earth Island Institute.

The case is Earth Island Inst. v. Crystal Geyser Water Co., Cal. Super. Ct., No. 20CIV01213, 2/26/20.

(Adds comment from American Beverage Association.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Maya Earls in Washington at mearls@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com; Patrick L. Gregory at pgregory@bloomberglaw.com

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