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Can you really recycle this? Lawsuit looms over Big Plastics

The Earth Island Institute has filed a first-of-its-kind lawsuit against 10 companies – including giants like Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Nestlé – for creating unsustainable plastic products.

Coke, Pepsi, and Nestlé alone are responsible for around 15% of ocean plastics, according to a 2019 audit by the global campaign Break Free from Plastic. The lawsuit was filed in California state court on 28 February and includes public nuisance, breach of warranty and negligence claims, says Sumona Majumdar, general counsel for Earth Island.

‘We seek to hold corporations accountable for their share of plastic pollution and their claims that plastic packaging is recyclable,’ she adds. ‘For too long, they have pushed those costs onto the public, and that includes non-profits like Earth Island that are using charitable funds to clean up their mess.’

Confront corporate shortcomings

Majumdar likens the ‘blame deflecting’ attitude of leading plastics producers, sometimes called Big Plastics, to that of other major industries like Big Oil, Big Tobacco, and Big Pharma. ‘These companies push a product and then create misinformation campaigns so the public isn’t fully aware of the harms of the products when making purchasing decisions,’ she argues.

‘In the case of plastics, a major part of that misinformation campaign has been the idea that any shortcomings when it comes to recycling are those of the consumer, not the producer,’ says Josh Floum, president of Earth Island’s board of directors. ‘For years they have spread the fake narrative that their products can be recycled when they know in many cases this is simply not true.’

The fact is that virgin plastic products are much cheaper to produce. At the moment, around 91% of Coke’s packaging is made of virgin plastic – while for Unilever the figure is almost 99%.

Time to rethink

‘This could be the first in a tide of lawsuits by other organisations, as well as cities and states, to hold Big Plastic responsible for global plastic pollution, and force major actors to rethink their business practices,’ comments Dianna Cohen, ceo and co-founder of Earth Island’s Plastic Pollution Coalition. She adds: ‘This lawsuit is a step toward a world free of plastic pollution. The writing is on the wall that the system that has been created is not sustainable.’

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