Baltimore Sues PepsiCo, Coke and Frito Lay Over Plastic Pollution

The city follows New York in suing plastic polluters for cleanup expenses. Its lawsuit cites false claims, failure to warn, design defect, deceptive practices, and violations of state and local laws.

Baltimore's Mr. Trash Wheel collects trash in the city's harbor after a storm.
Baltimore's Mr. Trash Wheel collects trash in the city's harbor after a storm.
Baltimore Sun

Seeking accountability from some of the world's biggest plastic polluters—including PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, and Frito Lay—Baltimore filed a lawsuit against the consumer packaged goods giants for contributing to what they have acknowledged as a plastic pollution crisis, according to filings by Mayor Brandon Scott, the City Council of Baltimore, Milberg Coleman Bryson Phillips Grossman LLP ("Milberg"), Napoli Shkolnik, and Smouse & Mason LLC.

Throughout Baltimore, discarded plastics litter beaches, lawns, parks, sidewalks, streets, and waterways, creating an eyesore and shedding tiny toxic fragments known as microplastics that harm the environment and human health.

"Everywhere you look, you find discarded plastic bottles, bags, and food containers littering our city, to the point that it has become normal—or that's what the defendants would like you to think," said Roy L. Mason, a Managing Partner at Smouse & Mason. "Our lawsuit sends the message that none of this is normal. It's the result of a corporate misinformation campaign with the usual corporate motive: profit at any cost."

The lawsuit claims that despite knowing about these problems, the defendants have only increased their plastic production while touting sustainability and externalizing cleanup costs to local governments like Baltimore, which has spent tens of millions of dollars cleaning up their plastic trash, according to a lawsuit filed on June 20, 2024, in Baltimore Circuit Court.

A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that microplastics are linked to serious cardiovascular problems such as heart attacks and strokes. New research also alleges more than 20% of plastic pollution is caused by just four companies. Defendants Coca-Cola (11%) and PepsiCo (5%) are at the top of the list.

"Coca-Cola and Pepsi like to talk publicly about their recycling and sustainability initiatives, but single-use, disposable plastic packaging is among the most littered—and harmful—products ever made, and these companies have privately known since the 1970s that recycling them is practically impossible," said Paul J. Napoli, Partner at Napoli Shkolnik.

Corporations produce more than 400 million metric tons of plastic annually, which is expected to triple by 2060. Baltimore estimates it spent $70 million from 2018 to 2022 cleaning up defendants' products.

"It's not a coincidence that two of the biggest corporations in the world are also two of the world's biggest polluters," said Milberg Partner Marc Grossman. "They're able to reap huge profits in no small part because they're not paying the full cost of their products in the forms of cleanup, healthcare, and other costs that communities must bear."

The city follows New York in suing plastic polluters for cleanup expenses. Its lawsuit cites false claims, failure to warn, design defects, deceptive practices, and violations of state and local laws.

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