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A new legal battle has emerged in the fight against plastic pollution

29 November, 2023 | Ricardo Changala

On November 15, 2023, the New York State Prosecutor’s Office filed a lawsuit against PepsiCo, a major producer of soft drinks and snack foods. The suit alleges that the company’s disposable plastic containers have polluted the Buffalo River, posing a threat to public health. Moreover, it accuses PepsiCo of misleading the public by falsely claiming efforts to increase the use of recyclable materials.

The Prosecutor’s Office asserts that the majority of plastic waste collected annually along the riverbanks—such as bottles, caps, and snack wrappers—is breaking down into microplastics, primarily originating from PepsiCo’s containers. These pollutants have been detected not only in the drinking water sourced from Lake Erie, near the river mouth, but also in fish inhabiting these waters.

Beyond environmental damage, the lawsuit accuses PepsiCo of deceiving consumers by ostensibly reducing non-recycled or virgin plastics in its packaging while actually increasing them by 11% in 2022.

This case exemplifies the consequences of uncontrolled plastic usage despite numerous studies, reports, and evidence highlighting its severe repercussions.

Meanwhile, in Nairobi, Kenya, in mid-November 2023, discussions among specialists resumed to develop an international treaty aimed at combatting global plastic pollution.

This initiative stems from United Nations Assembly Resolution 5/14 of 2022, which recognized the urgency to create a binding global agreement addressing plastic pollution, including its impact on marine environments. The envisioned treaty aims to encompass the entire life cycle of plastic, encompassing production, design, and disposal processes.

The International Negotiating Committee (INC) commenced its efforts in the latter half of 2022, with a mandate to conclude negotiations by the end of 2024. INC-1 convened in Punta del Este, Uruguay, followed by INC-2 in Paris, France. Currently, the third session, INC-3, is underway until November 19, 2023.

Plastic pollution has reached a critical point, with an annual production of around 430 million tons, two-thirds of which are discarded, detrimentally impacting the environment and the food chain.

The INC secretariat estimates that plastic pollution costs the planet between 300 billion and 600 billion dollars yearly in damages to ecosystems, climate, economy, and human health. Without intervention, plastic production is projected to double in the next two decades.

The INC emphasizes the necessity of transitioning from a disposable economy to a circular, reusable one.

At INC-3, the focus is on refining the initial draft of the international treaty on plastic pollution published earlier this year, aiming for final negotiations by the end of 2024.[1]

While history shows many international forums struggling to achieve concrete agreements on critical global issues, including environmental concerns, there’s always hope for tangible results, not merely in documents but in effective implementation.

[1] UNITED NATIONS United Nations Environment Programme, UNEP/PP/INC.3/4, 4 September 2023