The New York attorney general sued PepsiCo on Wednesday, accusing the food and beverage giant of endangering the environment and misleading the public about its goals to eliminate single-use plastic in its packaging.
The attorney general, Letitia James, said her office had found that much of the plastic waste along the Buffalo River was from the company’s products.
Ms. James is seeking unspecified damages and demanding that the company provide a remedy for the contamination in the Buffalo region caused by its products and reduce the quantity of PepsiCo’s plastic packaging entering the river. Ms. James is also demanding that the company stop selling or distributing single-use plastic products in the Buffalo area that do not contain “adequate” warning labels.
“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,” Ms. James said in a statement.
In 2022, the attorney general’s office conducted a survey of pollution in the Buffalo River and found high levels of contamination from single-use plastic products.
PepsiCo, which is based in Purchase, N.Y., and makes snack foods like Lay’s potato chips and Mountain Dew soft drinks, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Along with other companies that have committed to sustainability, PepsiCo has said it aims to make all of its packaging “recyclable, compostable, biodegradable or reusable” by 2025. The company also says it wants to cut virgin plastic by 50 percent by 2030, compared with 2020.
But Ms. James’s office said that the company had not followed through so far and, in the process, has contributed to a public nuisance and a potential health hazard to New Yorkers. The office said that it surveyed around 2,000 pieces of trash along the Buffalo River and found that PepsiCo products — wrappers, bottles and chip bags — were the largest contributor, accounting for more than 17 percent of the identifiable trash.
Ms. James’s office has recently pursued legal action against businesses for violating environmental and consumer protection laws.
In September, the attorney general announced that three recycling and cleanup companies had been convicted of illegally processing and disposing of 800 tons of electronic waste. In June, Ms. James reached a $6.7 million settlement with the German biotech conglomerate Bayer over making false claims to consumers about the safety of its weedkiller Roundup. And in March, Ms. James filed suit against 29 waste management companies for illegally dumping in New York.
The suit filed on Wednesday against PepsiCo is similar to one filed in 2020 in a California court against PepsiCo, Coca-Cola and other big companies by a state environmental group. That suit also claimed that Pepsi was contributing to a “nuisance” and that it was misleading consumers through labeling its packaging as recyclable.