Earth Island Institute Turns Up the Heat on Big Plastic

March 8th, 2020 - by Erin McCormick / The Guardian & Earth Island Institute

Coke and Pepsi Sued for Creating a Plastic Pollution ‘Nuisance’

Erin McCormick / The Guardian

 (February 28, 2020) — Coke, Pepsi, Nestlé and other large companies are being sued by a California environmental group for creating a plastic pollution “nuisance” and misleading consumers about the recyclability of plastic.

The suit, filed in San Mateo county superior court on Wednesday, argues that companies that sell plastic bottles and bags that end up polluting the ocean should be held accountable for damaging the environment.

Earth Island Institute, which filed the lawsuit, says a significant amount of the eight to 20m tons of plastic entering the Earth’s oceans annually can be traced back to a handful of companies, which rely heavily on single-use plastic packaging.

The suit seeks to require these companies to pay to remediate the harm that plastic pollution has caused to the Earth and oceans. It also demands these companies stop advertising products as “recyclable”, when they are, in fact, largely not recycled.

“These companies should bear the responsibility for choking our ecosystem with plastic,” said David Phillips, executive director of Earth Island Institute. “They know very well that this stuff is not being recycled, even though they are telling people on the labels that it is recyclable and making people feel like it’s being taken care of.”

The suit names 10 companies found to be top producers of the plastic collected in beach cleanups in an international audit conducted last year by 72,000 volunteers working with the group Break Free From Plastic. The companies are Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Nestlé, Clorox, Crystal Geyser, Mars, Danone, Mondelēz International, Colgate-Palmolive, and Procter & Gamble.

“Plastic waste is a worldwide problem that demands thoughtful solutions,” said William M Dermody Jr, a spokesman for the American Beverage Association, which represents Coca-Cola, Pepsi and other makers of non-alcoholic beverages. “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.”

Other companies, including Nestlé, said they were still reviewing the lawsuit’s allegations or they could not immediately be reached.

Noting that, at the current rate of dumping, plastic will outweigh fish in the ocean by 2050, the suit charged that companies have engaged in a “decades-long campaign to deflect blame for the plastic pollution crisis to consumers”. Consumers are led to believe that the Earth would be healthy, if only they recycled properly, when, in reality, there is no market for most plastics to be recycled, the suit says.

Past studies have shown only about 10% of plastic gets recycled, but Phillips said, once those numbers are updated to reflect the recent collapse of the recycling market, it will probably show that only about 5% is getting recycled.

He said customers have received misinformation downplaying the harms caused by plastic in marketing campaigns similar to the disinformation promoted by tobacco companies downplaying the dangers of smoking.

“This is the first suit of its kind,” Phillips said. “These companies are going to have to reveal how much they’ve known about how little of this stuff is being recycled.”

Martin Bourque, who runs the Ecology Center, which handles recycling for the City of Berkeley, said he is tired of knowing that some portion of the plastic collected in his city’s recycling bins will eventually just be thrown away.

“It’s about time these companies that have been telling people that this stuff is recyclable be held accountable for polluting our ecosystem,” he said.

Phillips said the suit does not mean to dissuade customers from recycling, but it seeks to have companies take more responsibility for the waste their products create.

“It’s not that we’re slamming recycling,” he said. “We’re totally in favor of recycling. We just want companies to take responsibility for what’s really happening to all this plastic they’re producing.”

Earth Island Files First US Lawsuit to Hold Major Food, Beverage, and Consumer Goods Companies Accountable for Plastic Pollution

Press Release / Earth Island Institute

BERKELEY, Calif. (March 2, 2020) — Earth Island Institute, represented by Cotchett, Pitre, & McCarthy, filed on February 26, 2020, the first major lawsuit against Crystal Geyser Water Company, the Clorox Company, the Coca-Cola Company, Pepsico, Inc., Nestlé USA, Inc., Mars, Incorporated, Danone North America, Mondelez International, Inc., Colgate-Palmolive Company, and the Procter & Gamble Company for polluting our waterways, coasts, and oceans with millions of tons of plastic packaging.

The lawsuit was filed in California State Superior Court in the County of San Mateo alleging violations of the California Consumers Legal Remedies Act, public nuisance, breach of express warranty, defective product liability, negligence, and failure to warn of the harms caused by their plastic packaging. 

“This is the first of what I believe will be a wave of lawsuits seeking to hold the plastics industry accountable for the unprecedented mess in our oceans,” said Josh Floum, Earth Island Institute’s Board President. “These plastics peddlers knew that our nation’s disposal and recycling capabilities would be overrun, and their products would end up polluting our waterways.”

Through this lawsuit, Earth Island Institute is seeking, among other things, to recover the significant resources it expends to prevent and mitigate the effects of plastic pollution on humans, wildlife, oceans, and waterways in California, where the impacts are particularly acute. For example, an October 2019 report by the San Francisco Estuary Institute revealed that the San Francisco Bay has some of the highest levels of microplastics measured anywhere to date, and many of the particles appear to be linked to single-use plastic items.

And a June 2019 study by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute found that microplastic concentration in Monterey Bay exceeds that of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and that the primary source was plastic associated with food, beverage, and other consumer goods. The same study also found that small marine animals are consuming these microplastics, thus introducing the particles into the food web that feeds California. 

Mark Molumphy, a partner at Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, lead counsel for Earth Island Institute, said, “This is not just a disaster that future generations will have to deal with. It is happening now and getting worse with each passing day. We are ingesting more and more plastic in the water we drink and the food we eat.”

The complaint alleges that the average person ingests approximately 5 grams of plastic on a weekly basis — roughly the equivalent of a credit card. Furthermore, as described in the complaint, plastic alters the chemical composition of the ocean when it breaks apart into smaller pieces by releasing toxic chemicals into the surrounding water. Potential pollutants released through this process include bisphenol A and PS oligomer, two known hormone disruptors.

Finally, plastic particles attract other toxins, such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), thus becoming more toxic to humans, wildlife, and the environment over time.  

Joe Cotchett, another partner at Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, said, “The trillion-dollar plastic industry is polluting our oceans, rivers, and bays — the government won’t stop them, but Earth Island Institute is willing to take them on.” 

“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 Institute’s General Counsel Sumona Majumdar.

“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. 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.”

For almost forty years, Earth Island Institute has developed and supported projects that counteract threats to the planet’s biological and cultural diversity, while also building the next generation of environmental leaders and educating the public on environmental issues. Earth Island Institute also plays a leading role in the fight to protect our oceans, coasts, and marine life. 

Earth Island has filed this case in its own right and on behalf of the following sponsored projects:

  • Plastic Pollution Coalition, founded in 2009, is a growing global alliance of more than 1,000 organizations, businesses, and thought leaders in 75 countries working toward a world free of plastic pollution and its toxic impacts on humans, animals, waterways, oceans, and the environment.
  • The International Marine Mammal Project is one of the leading groups fighting to protect dolphins, whales, and the ocean environment.
  • Shark Stewards works to restore ocean health by saving sharks from overfishing and the shark fin trade and protecting critical marine habitat through the establishment of marine protected areas and shark sanctuaries. As part of this effort, it launched a marine debris prevention effort that regularly conducts cleanups and quantifies marine debris in the San Francisco Bay Area.
  • 1000 Fountains is building a network of one thousand drinking fountains throughout San Francisco to provide consumers with alternatives to single-use plastic bottles.

Filed complaint available here.

Relevant Reports and Articles:

Companies use misleading “recyclable” label

Branded: Vol II Identifying the World’s Top Corporate Polluters

Recycling Is Not Enough” It’s time to rethink how to solve the plastic waste crisis

How the soft drink industry can — right now — reduce marine plastic pollution by billions of bottles each year

San Francisco Bay Microplastics Project

New study finds microplastics throughout Monterey Bay

Assessing Plastic Ingestion from Nature to People

Plastic and Health: The Hidden Costs of a Plastic Planet

Contact:  Josh Floum, Earth Island Institute Board President.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.