USA – The city of Baltimore, Maryland, has initiated legal action against several prominent beverage and plastic manufacturers, holding them accountable for the reported environmental damage caused by plastic pollution.

The lawsuit, filed on June 20, 2024, by Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott, the City Council of Baltimore, and law firms Milberg Coleman Bryson Phillips Grossman, Napoli Shkolnik, and Smouse & Mason, targets major industry players such as PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, and Frito Lay for the cleanup costs incurred by the city.

Discarded plastic waste, including bottles, bags, and containers, is a growing concern in Baltimore and contributes to the proliferation of microplastics.

Despite this, the defendants reportedly continue to scale up their plastic production while endorsing sustainability initiatives.

The lawsuit includes allegations of false claims, failure to warn, design defects, deceptive practices, and violations of state and local laws. Baltimore estimates its expenditure on cleaning up plastic waste at US$70 million between 2018 and 2022.

Smouse & Mason managing partner Roy Mason said, “Everywhere you look, you find discarded plastic bottles, bags, and food containers littering our city, to the point that it has become normal – or that’s what the defendants would like you to think.

“Our lawsuit sends the message that none of this is normal. It results from a corporate misinformation campaign with the usual corporate motive: profit at any cost.”

Recent studies, including one published in the New England Journal of Medicine, have linked microplastics to severe health issues such as heart attacks and strokes.

Research has identified that more than 20% of global plastic pollution can be traced back to just a handful of companies, with Coca-Cola and PepsiCo being significant contributors.

Napoli Shkolnik partner Paul Napoli stated, “Coca-Cola and Pepsi like to talk publicly about their recycling and sustainability initiatives, but single-use, disposable plastic packaging is among the most littered – and harmful – products ever made, and these companies have privately known since the 1970s that recycling them is practically impossible.”

Last year, New York state sued PepsiCo for plastic pollution along the Buffalo River, allegedly contaminating the water and harming wildlife.

According to the lawsuit, PepsiCo is the single largest identifiable contributor to the problem. The New York complaint alleged that PepsiCo broke state laws by failing to warn the public about the risks of plastic packaging and promoting misleading statements about its efforts to combat pollution.

“No company is too big to ensure that their products do not damage our environment and public health,” said Attorney General Letitia James.

The lawsuit noted that PepsiCo manufactures, produces, and packages at least 85 different beverage brands and 25 snack food brands, predominantly in single-use plastic containers.

A survey of waste collected at 13 sites along the Buffalo River found that PepsiCo’s single-use plastic packaging was the most significant, with over 17% of the 1,916 pieces of identifiable plastic trash produced by PepsiCo.

Microplastics have been detected in Buffalo’s drinking water supply, which can cause a range of adverse health effects, from reproductive dysfunction to inflammation of the intestine and neurotoxic effects.

PepsiCo responded in a statement, saying it was “serious about plastic reduction and effective recycling,” adding that this is a “complex issue” requiring involvement from “businesses, municipalities, waste-reduction providers, community leaders, and consumers.”

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