Advocacy Group Sues Major Companies Over Plastics Pollution

An environmental advocacy group has taken on some of the world's largest food companies seeking to hold them responsible for the pollution that they allegedly cause in the oceans. The Earth Island Institute has filed a lawsuit in California and has named ten major international companies as defendants in the case. This is thought to be the first major lawsuit like it to have been filed, and it remains to be seen whether a court will let it proceed to the merits or will simply dismiss it on procedural grounds. This is a different way of attempting to use the civil courts to hold alleged polluters accountable for what they discharge into the environment.

The lawsuit was filed by an advocacy group called Earth Island Institute. It targeted companies such as Coca-Cola and Nestle over the plastic waste that they generate that the advocacy group claims harms the environment. The plaintiffs are seeking unspecified damages along with an order that the companies clean up the environmental damage. The plaintiffs are suing on the grounds of public nuisance, negligence and breach of warranty.

In addition, the lawsuit takes issue with these companies' advertising of their products. The defendants market their products as recyclable. The plaintiffs argue that these are false claims made with full knowledge of the company. While the plastics may be recyclable, in reality most of the products are not recycled causing an environmental mess that wreaks havoc on the oceans.

Plastics Pollution Is a Growing Environmental Disaster

Pollution of the oceans has been a topic that is drawing a growing amount of attention. News accounts focus on the tonnage of plastic waste that pollute the oceans. Plastic in the water is harmful to the fish that ingest the particles from the plastic that permeates the water.

Some lawmakers are trying to devise legal methods that would force companies to take responsibility for the pollution in the waters although a comprehensive solution is not yet on the horizon. Currently, California is considering a form of liability for polluters that would make them responsible for cleaning up the waste that they generate. In addition, federal lawmakers have also proposed legislation to create a nationwide plastics redemption program and also to ban some single-use plastics.

Experts expect that this lawsuit is the first of many that will seek to hold these companies accountable for plastic waste. Environmental advocates are comparing Big Plastics to Big Tobacco based on the scope of the damage that they allegedly cause to the environment. However, it took plaintiffs years to break through legally in their lawsuits against Big Tobacco before their legal theories took hold.

Currently, plastics makers have denied that they face any legal liability for the mess that their products make. They claim that the market will ultimately regulate their products based on the choices that purchasers make. They also claim to be open to alternatives, yet they continue to produce the same products.

State Court May Not Be the Proper Venue for the Lawsuit

One of the main issues that this lawsuit will face is that state court may not be the proper jurisdiction for it. The plaintiffs filed the lawsuit in California because the state has relatively friendly anti-nuisance laws. However, the defendants will likely argue that the lawsuit should be heard in federal court as that is where jurisdiction over environmental lawsuits typically lies. The oil companies have had success having similar lawsuits removed to federal court, keeping their cases away from state courts that may be more hostile. Nonetheless, California is located closest to where much of the pollution occurs as the state has a large Pacific coastline and has experienced issues with plastics pollution offshore.

In many instances, these novel cases are not successful as courts typically hesitate to embrace new legal theories when they are issues of first impression. Nonetheless, lawsuits like these raise public consciousness of the issue and heighten the pressure on these companies to take their own measures to address the problem.

The plaintiffs drew the list of defendants from an audit that the group conducted in 2028. According to Earth Island Institute, the top three polluters alone account for nearly 15 percent of the plastic pollution in the oceans. These companies have announced publically their goals to reduce plastic pollution but the plaintiffs do not believe that these goals are either reachable or ambitious enough.