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New York sues PepsiCo over plastics it says pollute, hurt health

FILE PHOTO: Pepsi bottles are seen lined up at a store in New York

By Clark Mindock and Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK (Reuters) -New York state sued PepsiCo on Wednesday, accusing the beverage and snack food giant of polluting the environment and endangering public health through its single-use plastic bottles, caps and wrappers.

The lawsuit filed in state court in upstate Erie County is among the first by a U.S. state to target a major plastics producer.

New York Attorney General Letitia James accused PepsiCo of contributing to a public nuisance by generating a significant share of plastic waste found in and near the upstate Buffalo River, including more than 17% of trash that could be readily traced to specific brands.

She also said the company failed to warn consumers about the potential health and environmental risks of plastics in its more than 100 brands, and misled the public about its efforts to fight plastics pollution.

James said such pollution can enter drinking water after breaking down, contributing to health problems.

"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," James said in a statement.

A PepsiCo spokesperson said the Purchase, New York-based company is "serious about plastic reduction and effective recycling" and committed to working with local communities.

PepsiCo has partnered with stakeholders nationwide to improve recycling infrastructure and boost consumer awareness about the importance of recycling, the spokesperson added.

In addition to Pepsi cola, PepsiCo's brands include Cheetos, Cracker Jack, Doritos, Fritos, Gatorade, Lay's, Lipton, Mountain Dew, Ocean Spray, Quaker, Ruffles and Tostitos.

TEMPLATE FOR OTHER STATES

The lawsuit said altered functioning of reproductive organs and higher cancer rates have been observed in animals exposed to plastic additives and microplastics, and researchers believe humans could face the same effects. Microplastics are tiny particles produced by the breakdown of plastics.

It also said PepsiCo has deceived consumers by announcing targets to reduce how much non-recycled plastic it uses in packaging, although it has actually increased its usage.

The lawsuit seeks to force PepsiCo to stop causing a nuisance, clean up contamination and pay for damages caused by plastic waste.

It also seeks an order barring sales of single-use plastic in the Buffalo region without warnings saying the packaging could cause pollution and poses health and environment risks.

Environmental advocates called the lawsuit a significant step in the fight against plastic waste, and could be a template for other states, counties and municipalities.

"Not only should other companies be watching this carefully, they should proactively reduce their plastic pollution so they are not subject to similar lawsuits," said Judith Enck, president of the advocacy group Beyond Plastics.

Enck had been a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regional administrator during the Obama administration.

Connecticut and Minnesota have also filed plastics-related litigation, accusing companies of deceptively marketing bags that cannot be recycled in state facilities as recyclable.

California, meanwhile, in 2022 announced a probe into the fossil fuel and petrochemical industries' role in plastics pollution.

PepsiCo shares closed down 86 cents at $167.25 in Wednesday trading on the Nasdaq.

(Reporting by Clark Mindock and Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Jonathan Oatis and Alexia Garamfalvi)

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