Earth Island Institute Files Lawsuit Against Coca-Cola for False Advertising

Global beverage company markets itself as sustainable and environmentally friendly while being the largest plastic polluter in the world

Contact: Sharon Donovan
Communications Director
Earth Island Institute
sharondonovan@earthisland.org, (510) 859-9161

Washington, D.C. (June 8, 2021) — On the grounds of false and deceptive advertising, Earth Island Institute today filed a lawsuit against the Coca-Cola Company, the American multinational beverage corporation that portrays itself as sustainable and environmentally friendly while generating more plastic pollution than any other company in the world. The filing coincides with World Oceans Day, in recognition of the devastating impacts plastic pollution has on marine life, oceans, and coastal communities, and the dire need for companies like Coca-Cola to take responsibility for those impacts.

On its website and in advertising campaigns on television, in print, and across social media platforms, Coca-Cola claims that “our planet matters.” “Scaling sustainable solutions . . . and investing in sustainable packaging platforms to reduce our carbon footprint,” the company asserts. A “World Without Waste” declares the headline in one marketing campaign. Yet almost anywhere you look there’s a plastic Coca-Cola bottle trashing the public park, washed up on the beach, or piled in a mountain of plastic at a waste processing facility. What these advertising campaigns ultimately amount to is a mountain of greenwashing.

In fact, Coca-Cola was named the number one corporate plastic polluter for the past three years according to the Break Free From Plastic Global Cleanup and Brand Audit report. According to the report, 13,834 branded Coca-Cola plastics were recorded in 51 countries in 2020, reflecting more plastic than the next two top global plastic polluters combined.

“Coca-Cola has long been in the business of portraying itself as stewards of the environment while pointing to consumers as the source of plastic pollution. But it is Coca-Cola, not consumers, that chooses to use chart-topping amounts of plastic for its products. It is time this company is held accountable for deceiving the public,” said Earth Island Institute General Counsel Sumona Majumdar. “The more consumers become aware of plastic pollution, the more the company doubles down on its purported commitment to the environment to appease those concerns, but the actual results of their efforts tell a very different story. The company needs to come clean and be honest with consumers.”

Earth Island Institute has filed the case in the District of Columbia Superior Court, alleging that Coca-Cola is in violation of the District of Columbia’s Consumer Protection Procedures Act (CPPA). The CPPA is a consumer protection law that prohibits a wide variety of deceptive and unconscionable business practices. The statute specifically provides that a public-interest organization, like Earth Island, may bring an action on behalf of consumers and the general public for relief from the unlawful conduct directed at consumers. If successful, this lawsuit will prevent Coca-Cola from falsely advertising its business as sustainable, among other things.

“For 12 years we have advocated for a more just, equitable world free of plastic pollution and its toxic impacts, driving corporate responsibility to stop plastic pollution at the source,” said Julia Cohen, MPH, co-founder and managing director at Plastic Pollution Coalition, a project of Earth Island Institute and a global alliance of more than 1,200 organizations, businesses, and thought leaders in 75 countries. “We want the Coca-Cola company to stop the greenwashing and false claims, be transparent about the plastic they use, and be a leader in investing in deposit and refill programs for the health of humans, animals, waterways, the ocean, and our environment.”

As a fiscally sponsored project of Earth Island Institute, Plastic Pollution Coalition is at the organization’s core of educating consumers about plastic pollution, including in the District of Columbia, and engaging in advocacy related to environmental and human health impacts from plastic.

Plastic pollution is a global problem and threatens human and environmental health on a massive scale, from the plastic-producing petrochemical plants that disproportionately impact communities of color and low-income communities to the plastic waste that is often dumped in developing countries to the toxic microplastics invading our bodies, which have been shown to contribute to cancer, neurotoxicity, reproductive issues, endocrine disruption, and genetic problems. Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of these issues and are too often deceived by companies like Coca-Cola, which claims that they are reducing their plastic footprint on the earth.

Earth Island Institute is represented by Richman Law & Policy, which specializes in consumer protection law.

World Oceans Day is Tuesday, June 8.

More information here.

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It’s World Oceans Day, and we are spotlighting our Coalition member Pirani Life, a company on a mission to end single-use and help everyone party sustainably. We spoke with Pirani Life’s founders Brandegee Pierce and Danielle Del Sordo to learn more about the story behind their reusable cups and tumblers.

How have you seen your beaches change over the years growing up in South Florida? 

Being on this beautiful planet and in South Florida 35 years, we’ve seen a steady increase of coral reef bleaching, eroding coastlines, and trash scattered across the sand and in the ocean from both littering beach goers as well as marine debris that washes ashore after storms and on a regular basis.  Brandegee on his 30th birthday was stuck with a needle that washed up on the beach (fortunately after a doctor’s visit, there was no issues but still really scary!)  Sadly, it got to a point where I (Danielle) could no longer go on a jog in the sand without getting infuriated with all the trash on my path.  It would end up turning into a cleanup vs a peaceful workout. We became a part of the #LitterFreeFlorida movement filled with organizations and individuals who are cleaning the coast on weekly and often daily basis, educating beach goers, students and citizens of South Florida to do better, choose reusables and take action for a better planet. 

We have recently expanded to the mountains in Asheville NC, where we see significantly less trash, and different types of litter, although it still exists and all streams lead to the sea.  We can see why not seeing trash directly entering our oceans could be a disconnect for people to think that it’s not that big of a deal to change their lifestyle and choose reusables over single use.  That’s why we are here to continue to create awareness!

How did you come up with the Pirani Party Tumbler?

Stepping outside of our comfort zones was never a challenge for us. We are designers with a passion to make a difference. In 2013, we quit our Corporate America careers in Industrial Design (Brandegee) and Costume Design (Danielle) to travel the world. We lived out of a backpack for 18 months looking for inspiration to start up an eco-friendly company together. Ideas ranged from sustainable swimwear to a healthy food truck, and the list can go on. Fast forward 6.5 years and Pirani Life was born!

Most of our sports take place in the ocean, and we were lucky enough to live one block from it. As South Florida native water babies living an active outdoor lifestyle, we grew tired of seeing litter scattered across our beautiful beaches. One of the biggest offenders was always that iconic red party cup. This fueled Brandegee to design the first vacuum insulated version of it. After countless 3D-printed prototypes created in our home studio (a.k.a. the living room), he was determined to create the last party cup you will ever need and help put a stop to the billions of single-use plastic cups that are tossed every year.

Pirani’s mission is to empower everyday heroes in safeguarding our planet through raising eco-awareness and creating sustainable solutions.  The biggest sense of accomplishment is when people tell us that through our messaging and brand, we made them think twice about using single-use items.  

What does #PartySustainably mean to you?

#PartySustainably is what makes Pirani Life, Pirani. We want the party to carry on without the waste we’ve seen in order to take better care of our beaches, forests, and the planet as a whole. You may see #PartySustainably and wonder where to even begin. Honestly, it’s anything that involves living the good life and taking better care of the environment to help the lives of others and for generations to come. To Party Sustainably means thinking about what you can do better to live your best life without relying on single-use plastics or overlooking picking up after yourself during a good time.

What plastic-free living tips do you have that people might not have thought of?

At Pirani Life, we like to spread the message that living sustainably is not about being perfect and every small action makes a difference.  Here are some of our favorite ways to #LiveSustainably at Pirani Life:

·      Forgot your reusable bags?  Wheel your groceries out of the store and bag at the car!

·      Got your favorite pho takeout but it comes in plastic?  Keep the container and use it as Tupperware!  Giving plastic a second, third, or fourth life is much better than single-use!

·      Don’t be shy!  Ask every barista, bartender, smoothie or juice maker to pour in your Pirani!  You will be surprised at how many say yes.

·      Don’t “Wishcycle”  and NEVER RECYCLE THIN FILM PLASTIC! We spent some time visiting recycling plants and the most important thing we learned is recycling will never be viable if its cost outweighs the benefit.  Thin film plastic like shopping bags clogs facilities and increases the cost of recycling a lot.

We can go on and on with this list, but those are our top 4!

If you could tell the world one message about plastic pollution, what would it be?

Imperfection in masses is better then perfection by a niche group.  Although we respect the zero-waste community a ton, the cold hard truth is the vast majority of people on this planet will never be zero waste.  Instead of shaming people for using a straw, commend them for using a Pirani Tumbler 😁 or a reusable bag or skipping the plastic water bottle.  Eventually as this message disseminates to the youth, we will hopefully have an overwhelming majority of people that care for this planet and be in powerful positions to make legislative and corporate decisions that are needed to improve the health of our beautiful and hopefully forgiving planet.

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Via As You Sow

BERKELEY, CA—MAY 11, 2021—After engagement with As You Sow on reducing single-use plastic packaging, Walmart Inc., the world’s largest company by revenue and largest U.S. grocery retailer, has agreed to cut its use of virgin plastic by 2025. In addition to this commitment, As You Sow has received similar promises from four other major global brands in just the last two months — Keurig DrPepper, Mondelez International, PepsiCo, and Target.

Citing urgent new data on the growing plastic pollution problem, As You Sow filed shareholder proposals with 10 leading consumer goods companies and retailers for 2021, including Walmart, calling for commitments to cut use of plastic packaging. Walmart will disclose the size of a virgin plastic reduction goal later in 2021. The company used 1.2 million metric tons of plastic packaging in its private brands sales in 2019, according to data submitted to the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment initiative.

Based on As You Sow’s discussions with Walmart, the reductions will be significant and absolute cuts in plastic use, in alignment with its participation in the Global Commitment process. In recognition of the company’s commitment, As You Sow agreed to withdraw its shareholder proposal filed with the company.

“We are thrilled to have completed agreements with five leading global brands to slash use of virgin plastic in such a short time frame,” said Conrad MacKerron, senior vice president at As You Sow. “These are important acts of leadership by companies whose packaging contributes to the global plastic pollution crisis.” 

Two of the five companies have disclosed the size of their projected cuts. Keurig Dr Pepper will cut use of virgin plastic 20% by 2025. Mondelez committed to a 5% absolute reduction in virgin plastic, including a 25% cut in virgin plastic in its rigid plastic packaging. Research on the scope of commitments at PepsiCo, Target, and Walmart are still being finalized and will be disclosed later this year. 

As You Sow’s efforts have been catalyzed by a 2020 landmark study by Pew Charitable Trusts, Breaking the Plastic Wave, which modeled actions needed to reduce 80% of the plastic pollution that flows into oceans by 2040. The report said immediate and sustained new commitments throughout the plastics value chain are needed, including actions by brand owners, consumer goods companies, and retailers to reduce at least one-third of plastic demand through elimination, reuse, and new delivery models.

The largest cut in overall plastic use to date by a major consumer goods company was a 2019 commitment by Unilever to cut virgin plastic use by 50%, including a total elimination of 100,000 tons of plastic packaging by 2025.

“We encourage other companies to step forward and make bold, absolute cuts in plastic packaging,” said MacKerron. “Thousands of companies will need to step forward and make similar commitments to ensure significant global reductions in single use plastic packaging.”

Two shareholder proposals on cuts in plastic use are still pending and set for a shareholder vote at Amazon on May 26 and Kroger in June. 

Via IPEN

Escalating Chemical Production Threatens Aquatic Food Chain

(Report)

GOTHENBURG, SWEDEN – Increasing levels of chemical and plastic pollution are major contributors to declines in the world’s fish populations and other aquatic organisms, according to a new report released today. The report is the first to bring together in one place the latest scientific research demonstrating how chemical pollution is adversely impacting the aquatic food chain that supports all life on earth.

“Many people think fish declines are just the result of overfishing. In fact, the entire aquatic food web has been seriously compromised, with fewer and fewer fish at the top, losses of invertebrates in the sediments and water column, less healthy marine algae, coral, and other habitats, as well as a proliferation of bacteria and toxic algal blooms. Chemical pollution, along with climate change, itself a pollution consequence, are the chief reasons for these losses,” said Dr. Matt Landos, report author and Director of Future Fisheries Veterinary Services.

Aquatic Pollutants in Oceans and Fisheries documents the science and numerous ways in which chemicals compromise reproduction, development, and immune systems among aquatic and marine organisms. The report is a joint project of the International Pollutants Elimination Network (IPEN) and the National Toxics Network (NTN).

Authors of the Aquatic Pollutants report warn that the impacts scientists have identified are only likely to grow in the coming years and will be exacerbated by a changing climate.

“The production and use of chemicals have grown exponentially over the past couple of decades. Many chemicals persist in the environment, making environments more toxic over time. If we do not address this problem, we will face permanent damage to the marine and aquatic environments that have nourished humans and every other life form since the beginning of time,” said Dr. Mariann Lloyd-Smith, IPEN Senior Advisor and report co-author.

Key areas of concern are:

Industrial releases. Industrial facilities continue to release millions of kilograms of toxic materials, including PCBs, dioxins, industrial flame retardants, and the perfluorinated ‘forever chemicals’ PFAS into rivers, streams, lakes, and ocean waters each year. Historic industrial pollutants are re-released via dredging, while coal combustion and small-scale gold mining have substantially increased toxic mercury concentrations in the Pacific Ocean.

Pesticides. Many pesticides known to cause harm are still in widespread use and are present at harmful levels in aquatic environments. Some of these substances not only bio-accumulate in aquatic organisms, but they also destroy the habitat and food supplies aquatic organisms depend on for life, including insects. Pesticides enter aquatic and marine environments through direct sources such as run-off from agriculture, golf courses, sports fields, parks, and residential properties, as well as through indirect sources such as sewage treatment plants and spray drift.

Pharmaceuticals and personal care products. Wastewater treatment facilities do not remove all pharmaceutical residues, and these products are now found throughout marine and coastal waters, as well as rivers and streams. A 2019 global study found at least one antibiotic in two-thirds of the sites studied and unsafe levels of antibiotics in 15% of the sites.

Plastics. Many plastic chemicals are toxic, and microplastics also attract, concentrate, and magnify other persistent toxic chemicals from the surrounding aquatic environment onto their surfaces. Microplastics have been found in commercial fish species throughout the world. Fish and other organisms often mistake the tiny plastic pieces for food, thereby contributing to their malnutrition and exposing fish and the food chain – including fish eaters – to toxic chemicals. This problem is only likely to grow as the petrochemical industry offsets falling fossil fuel revenues with planned rapid growth in plastics production.

“We are at the precipice of disaster, but we do have an opportunity for recovery. The out-of-control expansion of the polluters – the oil, gas, plastics, and chemical sectors – needs to be reined in. Governments around the world must urgently acknowledge the environmental, economic, and public health degradation caused by chemical pollution and act on the scientific evidence to develop policy and lead their communities to totally re-think how chemicals are used,” said Jo Immig, NTN National Coordinator and report co-author.

The report notes that progress will require fundamental changes in the way we produce, use and manage chemicals and their associated wastes. Addressing ocean pollution and its impacts on fisheries will need substantial shifts in industries, economies, and governance, including the cessation of destructive industries like deep-sea mining and stopping the devastating practice of using our waterways as waste dumps. Re­generative approaches to agriculture and aquaculture are urgently required to help lower carbon emissions, stop further pollution, and begin the restoration process. Transitioning away from fossil fuel extraction and use remains an urgent priority, as well as holding chemical producers accountable and responsible under the polluter pays principle.

IPEN (International Pollutants Elimination Network) is a global environmental network of over 600 public interest NGOs in 124 countries, working to eliminate and reduce the most hazardous substances to forge a toxics-free future for all. IPEN is registered in Sweden as a public interest non-profit organization.

NTN (National Toxics Network) is a not-for-profit civil society network, based in Australia, striving for pollution reduction, protection of environmental health, and environmental justice for all. NTN is committed to a toxics-free future.

Today Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Representative Alan Lowenthal (D-CA) reintroduced the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act, the most comprehensive bill to address the plastic pollution crisis ever introduced in Congress.

The Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act of 2021 expands and improves upon a previous version of the bill proposing proven solutions to protect impacted communities, reform our broken recycling system, and shift the financial burden of waste management off of municipalities and taxpayers to where it belongs: the producers of plastic waste.

Take Action today to support this historic legislation:

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Federal Court rules landmark case should proceed in California State Court

February 23, 2021 (Berkeley, CA) — Earth Island Institute, represented by Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, received a favorable ruling today in its landmark lawsuit against 10 major food, beverage, and consumer goods companies for the nuisance created by their plastic packaging, including polluting California waterways with plastic trash and touting products as recyclable when they’re not.

Judge Haywood S. Gilliam, Jr., of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California granted Earth Island Institute’s motion and ruled that the lawsuit belongs in state rather than federal court. This decision means that the lawsuit against the companies can proceed toward its merits rather than facing delays involved with attempts to change the venue. Similar motions have been used by Big Pharma and Big Oil to try to delay or derail lawsuits against them. Judge Gilliam’s decision prevents Big Plastic from attempting the same.

“We are thrilled to be one step closer to a full consideration of the merits of our groundbreaking case” said Sumona Majumdar, Earth Island Institute’s general counsel. “Our lawsuit is about the harm caused by the defendants’ plastic products here in California, and Judge Gilliam rightly saw through their attempts to recharacterize our complaint in an effort to cause delay and obtain what they perceive as a more favorable venue in federal court.”

The lawsuit was filed a year ago, in February 2020, in San Mateo County Superior Court in California, against Crystal Geyser Water Company, The Clorox Company, The Coca-Cola Company, Pepsico, Inc., Nestlé USA, Inc., Mars, Incorporated, Danone North America, Mondelez International, Inc., Colgate-Palmolive Company, and The Procter & Gamble Company. The case alleged 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. The defendants, however, sought to remove the case to federal court under various theories, including federal common law and maritime jurisdiction.The ruling today granted Earth Island’s motion and remanded the action back to California state court.

Mark Molumphy, a partner at Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy (CPM), lead counsel for Earth Island, said, “Today’s order is an important step in holding Big Plastic accountable for the impacts of their products in California. Plastic pollution is an environmental disaster that is getting worse with each passing day — this ruling gives the green light to move forward without further delay.”

“We look forward to presenting our case in state court,” said Noorjahan Rahman, the CPM attorney who gave oral argument on the Earth Island motion that was the subject of today’s ruling.

For almost forty years, Earth Island Institute, a leading nonprofit environmental organization based in Berkeley, California, has been developing programs and supporting projects that counteract threats to the planet’s biological and cultural diversity. Earth Island also plays a leading role in efforts to fight plastic pollution and 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 1,200 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 companies in the lawsuit are held accountable by the coalition, which serves as an industry watchdog, driving corporate change on single-use plastic. Together with members, Plastic Pollution Coalition has created and amplified thousands of petitions, collecting millions of signatures asking these companies to change their polluting practices.

● The International Marine Mammal Project is one of the leading groups fighting to protect dolphins, whales, and the ocean environment from plastic pollution. The ingestion of plastic packaging produced by the companies in this lawsuit often impacts the health of marine life. IMMP is currently developing a comprehensive report on these impacts and compiling a record of dolphins and whales that are dying from plastic ingestion and washing up on shores around the world.

● Shark Stewards works on the front lines of marine cleanup efforts and observes firsthand the ubiquitous presence of plastics that are trashing our shorelines and ocean environments. The organization aims to help restore ocean health by organizing and participating in cleanup programs, by saving sharks from overfishing and the shark fin trade, and by protecting critical marine habitat through the establishment of marine protected areas and shark sanctuaries.

● 1000 Fountains is building a network of one thousand drinking fountains throughout San Francisco to provide consumers with alternatives to single-use plastic bottles. By providing San Franciscans with more drinking fountains, almost 300 million single-use plastic water bottles that are purchased annually can be eliminated, saving consumers more than $500 million per year.

Additional information about this lawsuit can be found here.

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