In a groundbreaking move, New York Attorney General Letitia James has filed a lawsuit against PepsiCo, accusing the beverage and snack giant of excessive plastic pollution and endangering public health. The legal action, announced on Wednesday, is among the first in the nation to target a major plastics producer, marking a significant step in the fight against plastic pollution.

The lawsuit alleges that PepsiCo’s single-use plastic products have caused substantial contamination along the Buffalo River and its tributaries, posing a threat to both human health and wildlife. Attorney General James contends that the accumulation of plastic from Pepsi products in the Buffalo River has reached a point where it constitutes a public nuisance.

Attorney General James stated, “No company is too big to ensure that their products do not damage our environment and public health. 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.” The lawsuit seeks to hold PepsiCo accountable for the cleanup of the plastic pollution, as well as imposing warning labels on products sold in the region.

PepsiCo, headquartered in Purchase, New York, is one of the world’s largest food and beverage companies, producing popular brands such as Doritos, Cheetos, Mountain Dew, and 7 Up. In response to the lawsuit, the company issued a statement, asserting its commitment to plastic reduction and effective recycling. The company aims to make its packaging “recyclable, compostable, biodegradable, or reusable” by 2025.

However, the New York attorney general’s office alleges that PepsiCo has misled the public about the effectiveness of its plastic recycling efforts and failed to warn consumers about the health and environmental risks associated with plastic packaging. A 2022 survey by the attorney general’s office found that plastic from Pepsi products represented over 17 percent of the trash collected from 13 sites along the Buffalo River and its tributaries.

Globally, PepsiCo ranks as the second biggest plastic polluter, according to the environmental group Break Free From Plastic. The lawsuit filed in New York comes amidst increasing awareness of the environmental impact of plastic pollution, with diplomats meeting in Kenya this week to discuss a potential treaty to address global plastic pollution.

Judith Enck, president of the advocacy group Beyond Plastics, praised the lawsuit as “unprecedented and much needed,” urging other attorneys general to consider similar legal actions to protect rivers nationwide impacted by plastic pollution. The lawsuit seeks not only cleanup efforts but also demands that PepsiCo reduce the amount of packaging entering the Buffalo River.

The legal action follows a similar 2020 lawsuit filed by the California-based environmental group Earth Island Institute against PepsiCo and nine other companies for polluting California waterways with plastic packaging. The outcome of these lawsuits could set important precedents for holding major corporations accountable for their role in plastic pollution.