Image of discarded plastic drink bottle polluting a creek. (Photo by Kate Ter Haar/Flickr)

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The Berkeley-based nonprofit Earth Island Institute has filed a suit alleging that some of the world’s largest food, beverage and product manufacturers are polluting oceans and waterways with millions of tons of plastic.

The suit, which was filed in San Mateo County Superior Court on Feb. 26, seeks unspecified compensatory damage and legal fees as well as a court order requiring the companies to reduce plastic production, pay for cleanup and stop implying their plastic containers will be recycled until there are resources available to do so.

The suit names as defendants Calistoga-based Crystal Geyser Water Company, Oakland-based Clorox, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Nestle USA, Mars Inc., Danone North America, Mondelez International Inc., Colgate-Palmolive and Procter & Gamble.

The suit alleges 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 complaint says the creatures most notably affected by plastic pollution include fish, seabirds, marine mammals and reptiles.

Speaking at a news conference at the Berkeley Recycling Center on Gilman Street in Berkeley, Earth Island board president Josh Floum said the complaint “is a landmark suit because it’s the first ever to take on these large companies by asking them to take responsibility for their actions.”

Floum said, “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.”

He alleged, “These plastics peddlers knew that our nation’s disposal and recycling capabilities would be overrun, and their products would end up polluting our waterways.”

The suit says a study by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute and the Monterey Bay Aquarium found that small marine animals are ingesting microplastics and introducing them into the food chain that feeds Californians.

The suit says plastic is even abundant in human water supplies, with the average person ingesting about 5 grams, the equivalent of eating a credit card, weekly.

Earth Island general counsel Sumona Majumdar said the suit is asking the large companies “to take responsibility for the misinformation they have spread about the recyclability of plastic and the damage that their plastic packaging has wrought to the resources we work so hard to protect.”

Majumdar alleged, “For decades these companies have avoided any blame, in large part due to their coordinated campaigns to convince the public that plastic is not the cause of plastic pollution but rather that people cause plastic pollution.”

She said that is incorrect because “less than 10 percent of plastic has actually been recycled and these numbers are going down in recent years.”

Majumdar said, “They put the blame squarely on the public so that we would pick up the bill for all the costs of plastic pollution while they reaped the profits from their increasing reliance on cheap plastic packaging.”

Joe Cotchett, one of the lawyers who filed the suit on behalf of Earth Island, 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.”

William M. Dermody Jr., a spokesman for the American Beverage Association, said in a statement, “Plastic waste is a worldwide problem that demands thoughtful solutions.”

Dermody said, “America’s beverage companies are already taking action to address the issue by reducing our use of new plastic, investing to increase the collection of our bottles so they can be remade into new bottles as intended, and collaborating with legislators and third-party experts to achieve meaningful policy resolutions.”

Clorox, Crystal Geyser and Nestle USA did not respond to requests to comment on the lawsuit.