This week’s selected media: December 3, 2023: Elinor Ostrom and The People of New York State versus Pepsico, Frito-Lay, and Frito-Lay North America

December 3, 2023 by Joshua
in Tips

This week I watched and read:

Elinor Ostrom videos:

Ostrom won the Economics Prize that isn’t really a Nobel Prize, but has the Nobel name attached to it. It’s still prestigious. Her research showed how the situation described as “The Tragedy of the Commons” doesn’t result in the problems people think. It does create some incentives to overgraze and pollute, but it doesn’t stop there. Communities have found ways to manage commons for hundreds of thousands of years.

I confess that after learning the concept of the Tragedy of the Commons in college, maybe graduate school, I’m embarrassed now not to have noticed some obvious things that would make it not tragic. Some big examples:

  • If someone put more sheep in the field, everyone else could see it.
  • They can talk to each other.
  • All commons in the world aren’t overgrazed, so people have solved the problem.

How could I have propagated the simple-minded view without considering these obvious factors. I felt shame at accepting the original view without consideration.

Supreme Court of the State of New York: The People versus Pepsico, Frito-Lay, and Frito-Lay North America: New York State is suing Pepsi and a couple subsidiaries for violating several laws about its plastics harming citizens and deceptive practices like not telling consumers of the harm and claiming they were reducing virgin plastic use while they increased it and more. We’ll see what sticks, but it looks clear to me.

Why Pepsi? It mentions that in studies and clean-ups, Pepsi’s products dominated, more than double the next, McDonald’s. Below are some quotes. I recommend considering all your plastic purchases while reading them, whether from Pepsi, doof, or otherwise. Pepsi doesn’t buy its own products. We do.


In a survey of plastic pollution in the Buffalo River and its environs conducted by the Office of the Attorney General in 2022, PepsiCo’s plastic packaging far exceeded any other source of identifiable plastic waste, and it was three times more abundant than the next contributor (McDonald’s)

PepsiCo has long known of the harms caused by its single-use plastic packaging, acknowledging on its website that there is a “plastic pollution crisis” and that its own packaging has “potential environmental impacts.” PepsiCo also acknowledges its significant role in addressing the
problem of plastic pollution.

As a result of PepsiCo’s and others’ persistent manufacturing, production, distribution, and sale of beverages and snack foods in single-use plastic packaging, single-use plastic items have become a dominant form of pollution in urban watersheds such as the Buffalo River.

The Harms Caused by PepsiCo’s Plastic Packaging

Microplastics have been found throughout the human body. They can enter the human circulatory system through the small intestine and have been detected in the liver and spleen, placenta, blood, and even breastmilk.

a wide range of commercial plastic packaging, including
PET and PP, leach chemical additives having detectable estrogenic activity, substances that cause adverse health effects at low doses in fetal and juvenile mammals. These health-related problems include early puberty in females, reduced sperm counts, altered functions of reproductive organs, obesity, altered sex-specific behaviors, and increased rates of some types of cancers. The effects from plastic additives have been observed in mammals, and researchers expect the same effects would be observed in humans.

Exposure to microplastic and nanoplastic itself can also cause biochemical and structural damage in laboratory animals, including inflammation in the intestine and dysfunction of the liver, excretory and reproductive systems in mammals. Such exposure can also cause adverse toxicological effects on human cells, including cell barrier damage and reduced cell viability, and it can negatively affect human gut microbiota communities. Infants and young children are particularly sensitive and thus at higher risk of health effects from plastic related exposures. Environmental exposures during early life development can permanently influence health and vulnerability to disease later in life.

Birds that inhabit the Buffalo River and its environs, such as mallard ducks, loons, and cormorants, are known to ingest plastic pollution, mistaking it for food. As a consequence, they can suffer from weakness, irritation of the stomach lining, digestive tract blockage, internal bleeding, abrasion, ulcers, failure to put on fat stores necessary for migration and reproduction, absorption of toxins, and even potential death through starvation.

Various fish species inhabiting the Buffalo River are also known to ingest microplastic, including yellow perch, northern pike, brown bullhead, smallmouth bass, and largemouth bass. Like birds, fish have been shown to suffer ill effects from plastic pollution such as reduced nutritional intake as a result of microplastic ingestion and entanglement. These fish are also recreationally caught on the Buffalo River or its tributaries and are commonly eaten by humans and other animals.

PepsiCo’s Misleading Statements and Failure to Warn

PepsiCo itself characterizes the problem as a “plastic pollution crisis,” and the company has expressly acknowledged that its own plastic packaging may end up as waste on land or in water bodies with “potential environmental impacts.” As PepsiCo Chief Sustainability Officer Jim Andrew explained, the company’s plastic packaging “is something we’re very aware of our responsibility around.”

PepsiCo also intends and knows that its customers will discard its packaging after a single use. Over decades, PepsiCo has produced millions of metric tons of single-use plastic beverage bottles, caps, and food wrappers. None of this plastic packaging is reusable and little is recycled. Instead, the vast majority of the plastic is discarded, with significant quantities discarded into the environment or lost during waste collection, management, or final disposal.

PepsiCo is also aware of the acute limitations of recycling as a solution to the harms caused by plastic pollution. First, PepsiCo’s snack food packaging is not recyclable. Recycling thus cannot provide a solution for the multi-layered plastic packaging used by PepsiCo for its Lay’s potato chips, Doritos, Cheetos, Tostitos tortilla chips or other snack foods. Even as to PepsiCo’s beverage bottles made from PET, the vast majority are not recycled. In 2020, only 26.6% of PET bottles were recycled in the US, with the rest incinerated, sent to landfills, or discarded directly or indirectly into the environment. There are also geographical areas with limited or no access to recycling. As PepsiCo has acknowledged in a press release publicizing its relationship with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and quoting the foundation, “[w]e know we cannot recycle our way out of this plastic pollution crisis.”

PepsiCo’s Misleading Statements Regarding the Efficacy of Plastic Recycling and Its Efforts to Combat Plastic Pollution

Using press releases and other public statements, PepsiCo deliberately creates the misleading impression that some or all of the types of plastic resins used in its plastic packaging are infinitely recyclable, i.e., that there is a circular economy for plastic in which PepsiCo’s plastic packaging can be reprocessed over and over again. PepsiCo, for instance, claims that its recycling strategy will “keep the material in the circular economy.” It claims to “recognize the role we can play in creating a circular economy for packaging,” asserting that “[a] circular economy for packaging can help ensure that the valuable materials that are used in packaging are recycled and reused, rather than becoming waste.”

But these and other references to a “circular economy for plastic” are misleading. Not only are PepsiCo’s snack food wrappers not recyclable whatsoever, even the recyclability of PepsiCo’s PET bottles is limited. Every time plastic is recycled, the polymer chain grows shorter, and the quality of the material decreases. Plastic can only be recycled a limited number of times before the quality of the plastic material is so degraded it cannot be used again for the same purpose. Contrary to the misleading impression given by PepsiCo’s statements, PepsiCo’s PET bottles can generally only be recycled a limited number of times before the plastic resin will no longer be of a sufficient quality to form a new bottle.

Second, PepsiCo’s statements give a misleading impression of the company’s progress toward reducing its contribution to plastic pollution. In particular, the company’s misleading use of targets related to its plastic packaging deceives consumers and the public into believing PepsiCo is moving toward a meaningful reduction in its production of single-use plastic, when in fact no such progress is being made.

For instance, in 2019, PepsiCo announced a target to reduce the total amount of virgin plastic used in its plastic beverage bottles by 35% by 2025, using its 2018 quantity as a baseline. According to PepsiCo, this reduction would “fundamentally change the way the world interacts with our packaging to deliver our vision of a world where plastics need never become waste.” But this target quickly proved unattainable for PepsiCo. Two years later, PepsiCo’s use of virgin plastic in its beverage bottles increased by 5%.

Faced with this failure, PepsiCo simply changed the target without fundamentally changing its practices. In 2021, PepsiCo stopped reporting its progress toward the 2019 beverage bottle target and instead announced a new target of reducing virgin plastic per serving in beverage bottles and convenient foods packaging by 50% by 2030, to include a 20% reduction in the total amount of virgin plastic used in its plastic packaging, now using 2020 as a baseline.

But in 2022, PepsiCo’s total use of virgin plastic in its plastic packaging again increased, this time by 11%.

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