Some of the world’s biggest food, beverage and consumer goods companies are being sued for their contributions to plastic pollution.
The San Francisco Bay Area environmental organisation Earth Island Institute filed the first-of-its-kind lawsuit against ten companies – including Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Nestle and Procter & Gamble – on Wednesday, alleging that the companies pollute waterways, coasts, and oceans with the millions of tonnes of plastic packaging they produce. A 2018 report found that, globally, Coke, Pepsi and Nestle account for 14 per cent of plastic pollution.
“The products that we are targeting in our lawsuit are contained in plastic packaging that is designed to be used for a short period of time, sometimes just a few minutes. And yet, this packaging pollutes our bodies from one generation to the next, and our planet for centuries,” said Earth Island’s General Counsel Sumona Majumdar in a statement.
Studies show that every minute, the equivalent of one rubbish lorry's worth of plastic ends up in the ocean. That plastic is ingested by wildlife, releases toxins and, in the form of microplastic, even ends up in our bodies. Referencing a 2019 report, the complaint alleges that the average person ingests approximately 5 grams – roughly the equivalent of a credit card – of plastic on a weekly basis.
The organisation hopes the court will order the companies to pay to clean up polluted areas, and to stop labelling products as “recyclable” given that many are not actually recycled. Earlier this month, an analysis from Greenpeace found that American recycling facilities can only recycle a handful of the types of plastic being sent their way, meaning many plastic products tossed into recycling bins are actually ending up in landfills, incinerators or oceans.
“The Coca-Cola Company and our other defendants churn out millions of tons of plastic packaging each year and want us to believe that it is all being recycled,” said Majumdar. “It’s a misinformation campaign, similar to those used by Big Tobacco, Big Oil, and Big Pharma. Now is the time to hold Big Plastic similarly accountable.”
Earth Island Institute is suing on behalf of itself and four other environmental organisations. The suit was filed by Cotchett, Pitre and McCarthy, the firm who in 2015 sued the U.S. government, accusing it of taking insufficient action on climate change and thereby violating the life, liberty and property rights of young people. A ruling killed that landmark case last month.
The lawsuit is the latest sign that public outcry about plastic pollution is reaching a fever pitch. Last year, five U.S. states enacted legislation to ban the use of plastic bags, and this Sunday, New York state’s plastic bag ban will go into effect. Earlier this month, U.S. Senator Tom Udall and Representative Alan Lowenthal introduced a federal bill to ban some kinds of plastics, put a pause of up to three years on permitting new plastic production facilities, and require big corporations to manage and pay for recycling programmes. Meanwhile, the entire European Union is planning to ban single-use plastics by 2021, underscoring that a global shift is afoot.
Earth Island Institute says the time to act on the plastic crisis is now. Citing a 2016 report, the suit notes that if pollution trends continue, by 2050, plastic will outweigh fish in the ocean.
“This is not just a disaster that future generations will have to deal with,” Mark Molumphy, lead counsel for Earth Island, said in a statement. “It is happening now and getting worse with each passing day.”
Featured photo: Getty