Earth Island Institute takes on Big Plastic

A man in Nairobi’s Dandora District walks on a mountain of plastic bottles as he carries a sack of them to be sold for recycling. Twenty of the world’s 50 biggest dumpsites are in Africa. – Photo: AP

The first lawsuit filed in the United States that seeks to hold major food, beverage and consumer goods companies accountable for plastic pollution

by Lee Houskeeper

“These plastics peddlers knew that our nation’s disposal and recycling capabilities would be overrun, and their products would end up polluting our waterways.” – Earth Island Institute Board President Josh Floum

BerkeleyEarth Island Institute, represented by Cotchett, Pitre, & McCarthy, announces the filing of the first major lawsuit against Crystal Geyser Water Co., The Clorox Co., The Coca-Cola Co., Pepsico, Inc., Nestlé USA, Inc., Mars, Incorporated, Danone North America, Mondelez International, Inc., Colgate-Palmolive Co., and The Procter & Gamble Co. 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 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.

The complaint alleges that the average person ingests approximately 5 grams of plastic on a weekly basis – roughly the equivalent of a credit card.

Mark Molumphy, a partner at Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, lead counsel for Earth Island, 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 and McCarthy, said, “The trillion-dollar plastic industry is polluting our oceans, rivers and bays – the government won’t stop them, but Earth Island 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 General Counsel Sumona Majumdar. 

“The Coca-Cola Co. 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 40 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 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.

The Ecology Center pioneered curbside recycling in 1973 and is the longest-running curbside recycler in the nation. “Companies need to take responsibility for the pollution they have created,” said Ecology Center Executive Director Martin Bourque. “From the shoreline to the recycling sorting line, Big Plastic has contaminated our ecosystems and recycling system. It’s time for them to clean up their mess.”

Filed complaint available here.

Relevant reports and articles:

Contact Lee Houskeeper of San Francisco Stories at Newsservice@aol.com.