Following commitments from world leaders to agree to a legally binding treaty on plastic disposal, a string of lawsuits against the world’s largest plastic producers are expected in the coming weeks and months.
Last week, during the biennial U.N. Environment Assembly taking place in Nairobi, world leaders agreed to a resolution that would create a treaty expected to produce terms on plastic waste by the end of 2024. The resolution is being hailed as “historic.”
“This is the most significant environmental multilateral deal since the Paris accord,” said Inger Andersen, executive director of UN Environment Program. “It is an insurance policy for this generation and future ones, so they may live with plastic and not be doomed by it.”
Now, legal experts say the measure will likely lead to lawsuits against leading plastic producers.
The Philippines versus plastic waste
“An imminent case in the Philippines could set an important precedent,” reports The Guardian. “Last year, a coalition of individuals and environmental groups led by the marine conservation group Oceana Philippines filed a petition accusing the Philippine government of failing to tackle the ‘unabated production, use and disposal of plastic’ over the past two decades.”
The group behind the lawsuit says a list of products considered not environmentally friendly is not being enforced by the government despite laws in place for more than two decades.
The group claims that it’s resulted in “the unabated emission of millions of tons of plastic waste into every nook and cranny of the Philippine archipelago”.
That case is now heading to the Philippine Supreme Court.
In the U.S., nonprofit environmental group Earth Island Institute has filed three separate lawsuits against plastic producers. In 2020, it filed a suit against plastic bottle producers PepsiCo, Nestlé, and Coca-Cola; the latter makes up the lion’s share of plastic bottle waste globally. Earth Island filed a separate suit against Coca-Coal in 2021, as well as one against BlueTriton Brands, formerly Nestlé Waters North America.
Earth Island claims the companies have misrepresented their environmental efforts, claiming to be environmentally friendly even despite the significant amount of plastic waste related to the brands.
Coffee pod giant pays up
Coffee giant Keurig Green Mountain recently settled cases in the U.S. and Canada over its coffee pods. The plaintiffs alleged the company misled customers about the recyclability of its K-Cup single-serve coffee pods. That case was settled for $10 million.
The funds are going to fight the plastic crisis. Seventy-five percent of unclaimed funds are headed to Ocean Conservancy’s efforts, and 25 percent will go to Consumer Reports. Keurig will not recoup any unclaimed funds.
“As this case concerns plastic pollution in part due to the labeling of plastic products as recyclable that are not in fact recycled, there is a close correlation between the Ocean Conservancy’s mission and the facts that give rise to the instant action,” the buyers said.
As a result of the settlement, Keurig will now be required to update its packaging on the single-serve pods in order to inform customers that recycling may not be available for the pods in their area. It will also require the coffee giant to increase the font size of the disclaimer. It’s also changing copy on its website to inform customers that in many municipalities, its single-serve K-Cups are not recyclable.
Environmental law charity ClientEarth says it’s focusing on plastic producers as well as industry-wide greenwashing. One of its recent efforts involved a leading grocery retail group, Ahold Delhaize, which allegedly failed to disclose key details about its plastic use.
“Communities and states affected by plastics are going to be learning from the lessons of climate litigation and looking at the industries and actors that are playing a role in that crisis,” Rosa Pritchard, a plastics lawyer at ClientEarth, said in a statement. “A lot of different people are affected in very different ways, and that means that the potential avenues for litigation are actually very substantial and very diverse.”
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